Pumpkins with personality

Posted: Sunday, November 02, 2003

For centuries, people in Europe carved pumpkins to scare away evil spirits during the festival of Samhain.

These days, however, students in Soldotna are using their Halloween pumpkins to bring spirits to life the spirits of storybook characters.


Scarecrow from The Shy Scarecrow by Mallory Musgrove

For nearly a decade, the Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School library has sponsored a pumpkin-decorating contest for its students. And this year was no exception.

Kids and their families were invited to decorate a pumpkin as any character, item or event from a book and enter the gourd in the school's annual contest.


D.W. from Glasses for D.W. by Marc Brown

As in years past, the contest drew a plethora of creative creations, all drawn from children's favorite stories.

There were scenes from "Charlotte's Web," carriages from "Cinderella," a smattering of Dr. Seuss characters and artistic renderings of Arthur, from the popular children's book series.


Little Green Man from Toy Story I and II by Kody Vaught and family

"We always have Winnie the Pooh, Arthur and some Dr. Seuss," said school librarian Kathy Clark, who has worked with the contest since she joined the school staff eight years ago. "Last year, Harry Potter was big. I haven't noticed a favorite this year."

But while Harry Potter didn't appear en masse this year, one student did create the "golden snitch," a key component of the magical sport Potter plays in J.K. Rawling's best-selling series.


Arthur from Arthur, Clean Your Room! by Stephen Brown

Fourth-grader Olivia Duran said she wanted to fashion her pumpkin into a likeness of Hagrid, the friendly groundskeeper at Hogwarts, Potter's school.

"Harry Potter is my favorite," she said.

But, she said she didn't have the materials to make the lovable giant, so she settled instead for creating the abominable snowman from a "Goosebumps" book.


Cinderella from "Cinderella" by Emily Mattfield

"I had a whole bunch of this (cottony) stuff and I couldn't decide what to do with it," she said. "I looked through my 'Goosebumps' books, and he was kind of like a snowman, so I used it for his hair."

Olivia admitted that, though she enjoys "Goosebumps," a series of scary children's stories by R.L. Stine, she hadn't read the one with the abominable snowman yet.

"From what I could tell from reading the back, he makes his way to Pasadena, California, the snow melts and he starts to die."


Golden Snitch from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by Dakota Curtiss

Olivia said she prepared most of her creation by herself, but other students also had help from their parents.

Third-grader Kyle Kanarowski said his mom and dad played integral roles in making his design, a scene from E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web."

"We had this big piece of paper and my mom and dad started coloring it," he said. "My mom had a black marker, and she used black floss for the web."


Goo Bot from "Jimmy Neutron" by the Isaak family

Kyle said he came up with the idea, though.

"I really liked the movie and I thought it would be good," he said. "My favorite part is when Charlotte saved Wilbur's life."

K-Beach's celebration of literature is tremendously popular with students.

"We want kids to read, to know about the characters in the books," Clark, the librarian, said. "Some of the kids have been doing this every year. When they leave here, they miss it."


Mickey Mouse from "Mickey Mouse: My Life in Pictures" by Jasmine Woodland

And, she said, the contest has become very much about families.

In the Musgrove house, for example, the contest was a whole-family event.

Twin first-graders Mallory and Morgan Musgrove each had contest entries, as did their sister, Kayla.

Mallory, who was dressed as an emergency room doctor Wednesday for the school's Halloween celebration, decorated her pumpkin as the title character in Mary Packard's "The Shy Scarecrow," while Morgan, disguised as a purple-haired witch, made Dr. Seuss's "Cat in the Hat."


Pippi from "Pippi Longstocking" by Madison Day

"My sister Mallory wanted to do the Cat in the Hat, and I said, 'Mom, I wanted to do it,' then Mallory decided on the Shy Scarecrow," Morgan explained.

Mallory said she was OK with the arrangement because she likes scarecrows.

"I like to read that book almost every day," she said of "The Shy Scarecrow," which is about a scarecrow who fails in his duties.


Wilbur from "Charlotte's Web" by Kassidy Day

Kayla made Daisy Head Maize, the title character from another Dr. Seuss book.

All three of the sisters spray painted their pumpkins, then added props such as straw for the scarecrow's head, a red bow for the Cat in the Hat and a fake daisy for the top of Maize's head.

"My favorite part was when I spray painted it," Morgan said.

For Mallory, the best part was adding the straw hair.


Abominable Snowman for "Goosebumps 38: The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena" by Olivia Durah Rlaben

However, the twins both said they had fun just spending time making crafts with their families.

For Clark, that's what the event should be about.

"They do it as families, which is the part I like best."

According to historychannel.com, the Celts celebrated their new year on Nov. 1 and considered the previous evening a time of transition between the late summer harvest season and the cold, dark and often deadly winter. On that night, known as Samhain, the people also believed the boundary between the lands of the living and dead was transitional, allowing spirits to cross over onto Earth.

The traditions of the holiday evolved with changing times and grew to incorporate Roman festivals of harvest and death, as well as the Christian festival of All Saints Day, celebrated Nov. 1, and its eve, Hallowmas. Sometime after the Christian traditions were incorporated into Irish life, a fable of Stingy Jack appeared, the Web site explains.

According to the story, on a Hallowmas many years ago, Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him. However, Jack refused to pay the tab and instead convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin temporarily. Rather than pay the tab with the coin, Jack put it in his change purse, which had a cross-shaped clasp, trapping the devil. Jack eventually released the devil after making him agree to stay away for one year and not to claim Jack's soul should he die.

A year later, the devil returned to Jack, who convinced him to climb a tree to pick an apple. While the devil was in the tree, Jack placed crosses all around the trunk, again trapping the devil. The devil was released only after making another deal: To leave Jack alone for 10 years and to promise again not to take his soul.

On Hallowmas, people in Ireland carved and lit turnips, gourds and pumpkins to keep Stingy Jack's spirit away.

Decades later, during the second half of the 19th century, Irish immigrants flooded the United States, bringing their Halloween traditions with them. The holiday became a night of mischief, trickery and crime. By the end of the century, communities throughout the country were pushing to change the traditions. They worked to make Halloween a more neighborhood-centered event with parades, parties and kid-friendly activities. While some traditions, such as costumes and jack-o'-lanterns, survived, the "frightening" and "grotesque" aspects of the night faded.

"Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the 20th century," the Web site says.

These days, American communities still try to make Halloween a family-centered holiday. There are harvest carnivals at schools and churches, safe trick-or-treating events in neighborhoods and malls and a plethora of costume and pumpkin contests in towns nationwide.

K-Beach is just one example of such efforts.

The K-Beach Elementary contest is a far cry from the original tradition of jack-o-lantern carving, which, like Halloween itself, began with the Celtic people of Ireland and Great Britain.

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