During my first year in the US, my graduate director at the university invited me to a Halloween party at his home. I would be lying if I did not admit that I was under the impression that it was a just another late night party, which involved heavy dressing up. I was too caught up trying to fit in a new place and campus life makes it very easy to choose your corner and just live and thrive in it.
A couple of years later, on a trip to the supermarket, I realized how an entire section was stocked up with pumpkins all sizes and shapes. After dismissing the idea that so much pumpkin made it to American dinner tables, I realized that the real purpose of such huge quantities was to decorate homes for Halloween. I then ran into merchandize in every store for carving pumpkins, decorations to make your homes spooky, weird looking costumes with unflattering price tags and food sections filled with pumpkin-flavored baked goodies. They take it quiet seriously I thought to myself.
For the next few years, before and after Halloween, I indulged in sightseeing people’s houses that were so meticulously decorated and rated pumpkins on their front porches. Until one day, when my toddler insisted on participating in the ritual and carving a kitty cat on a pumpkin. In a first, I bought three pumpkins. One for each person in the house and also more in terms of back up if I miserably failed at making a cat face with a vegetable. Sitting down to carve it, I was impressed at the number of youtube tutorials and step-by-step guides on how to systematically carve your pumpkin. Still, the significance and relevance to the holiday seemed vague.
Image Credit: UVMBored
Over the years, like everything else, Halloween seems to have become a retail bonanza for the stores who bank on heavy sales and spend money on marketing for sales in this season. Many Americans and immigrants, like me, seemed to have been lost in translation regarding the origins of the day. The Irish story of Stingy Jack and the origin of Halloween put my doubts to rest. It excited me that just like back home in India, other cultures around the world associate evil spirits with pumpkins. It was almost like I found another thread connecting my origin and my new home.
For as long as I remember, every home in my street in India had a huge pumpkin hanging in their front porches. The difference is simply in the details. In India, hanging a pumpkin in the front porch is a ritual that many Hindu homes follow from the day they move in or buy a new home or a plot of land. It is believed that the pumpkin helps ward evil eyes and any black magic. But unlike in European cultures and America, it’s a constant feature in the homes, not seasonal like Halloween.
Like carved pumpkins that make scary faces, Indian pumpkins sometimes have paintings or pictures attached on both sides. The pictures and paintings are more graphic and colorful. Unlike Pumpkins that are discarded after a certain time period after Halloween, the pumpkins back in India are always replaced. It is believed that if a pumpkin gets rotten, it is the doing of somebody who cast an evil eye, so it is replaced by a new one. Other times, the pumpkins are periodically changed every few months.
Image Credit: Sandhya Prabhat - Picture Art
This week, an Uncle who was visiting from India went on walk and made new friend at the park. Once he got back home, he could not stop talking about the how fascinating it was to find out that Americans believe in evil spirits and have pumpkins outside their homes just like in India.