Terrifying turnips: Katies turn an old Halloween tradition into a learning experience

One well-known tradition of Halloween is the act of carving pumpkins with family and friends and setting them out as a decoration for the multitude of trick-or-treating children to admire (and in some cases, trample on) as they go from house to house in their quest for sweets. However, it is surprising just how far back the tradition reaches – and it wasn’t always with pumpkins.

Known throughout campus for their day brightener activities and movie nights, the St. Kate’s Activities Team (SKAT) decided to choose something a little different for their Halloween activities this year. Among the usual dining hall decorations and movie night in the Jeanne d’ Arc auditorium, SKAT added turnip carving to their list of events. Turnip carving was held on Wednesday, Oct. 29th from 12 to 1 p.m. as a day brightener event.

“It was Ezra (Zank)’s idea” said Elizabeth Cleary, ’17. “Ezra does edutainment events which means they are both fun and you learn something. I do day brightening events that are more just fun. Ezra came to me wanting to work together on this because it’s more of a day brightening activity, but it also has an educational component.”

“Historically, people originally carved turnips instead of pumpkins,” said Ezra Zank, ’15. “I thought this would be an interesting halloween-related event with an educational twist.”

The original turnip carving tradition was started by the Irish to ward off evil spirits on All Hallows Eve; legend has it that a man named Jack tricked the devil and trapped him in a tree by carving a cross into the bark and bargaining for his soul. When Jack died, he was told that he was too bad for Heaven, but the devil refused to take his soul. Instead, Jack was given a single glowing coal in a carved turnip and was made to carry it around for eternity. People would carve the turnips as a means of protection against Jack’s spirit, forcing him to move along. This is why they are called Jack-o-lanterns.

“We went with turnips because that was one of the first vegetables carved,” Cleary said. “This gave us a chance to educate people on the story of where carving pumpkins came from.”

To prepare the turnips, members of the SKAT team bought approximately 30 turnips and had them sit out for a few days before carving them. The turnips were then hollowed out in preparation for the event and to make transitioning visitors easier, as the event fell on an unusual day.

These days, of course, the purple turnips have been replaced by orange pumpkins, but that doesn’t mean you can only use one or the other. Turnips are softer than pumpkins and can be easier to carve if one wants a more exact design. Their drawback, however, is that they are a lot smaller, so most large designs may not be suitable for carving. That didn’t stop students from making quite a few elaborate carvings.

But the best part about turnip carving?

“I think the benefits of carving turnips are that it’s so much easier and a lot more practical for college students,” Cleary said. “I saw students put them outside their dorm rooms, and it’s so much easier to deal with a little turnip than a big pumpkin. All you need to carve a turnip is a spoon or melon-baller and a little carving knife. And turnips are St. Kate’s purple!”

SKAT has many different activities coming up, including a showing of “Guardians of the Galaxy” in the O’Shaughnessy auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 13. For more information, visit the SKAT office in the Student Organization Center during the week.

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