Pumpkin Symbolism

Although the pumpkin has become the modern American symbol of Autumn and especially of Halloween, the apple was this holy day’s most ancient signifier — because apples were harvested and made into alcoholic cider at this time, and because the seeds of an apple when it’s cut across (rather than down) form a five-pointed star, or a Pentagram — which was a sacred shape to the pre-Christians (it represented the head, arms, and legs of a human being). Hence the tradition of bobbing for apples. In Christianity, of course, apples have become associated with the Forbidden Fruit consumed in the Garden of Eden, and thereby connote the “Fall of Man” — and the broken, sinful aspect of human nature: its dark side.

Americans tend to use the apples instead in pie — that signature Autumn dessert, particularly in seasonal climates.

The pomegranate is also often associated with Halloween and Autumn, as it kept Persephone, the Goddess of Spring, trapped in the Underworld through fall and winter. (It would have been longer, but she confined herself to eating only six of those luscious, ultra-healthful seeds.) Pomegranates also ripen at this time — as do persimmons, another fiery-looking fall fruit.

Jack o’ Lanterns, of course, weren’t carved out of pumpkins or apples in the Old World — they were made out of turnips in the Celtic lands. When British pilgrims traveled to America, they renewed this tradition, and found that the pumpkin, a New World squash, was much easier to carve — plus, it’s colored like the fall leaves that surrounded the Colonists! Perfect.

What’s your favorite vegetable or fruit for celebrating the bounty of fall? How do you usher in those long days — and what’s in your metaphorical “root cellar” these days?

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