Many of you likely remember the classic Peanuts TV special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which these days usually airs on ABC every October. Along with the Peanuts Christmas special, we think the Great Pumpkin special is one of the finest moments in broadcast history, with its dry humor and bittersweet reflection of childhood.
Despite all the clever Halloween costume ideas floating around the internet, nothing says Halloween quite like the mighty pumpkin—the delicious squash used for jack-o’-lanterns today and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. If you missed National Carve a Pumpkin Day last Thursday, there’s still time to pick one out and carve it up for this evening.
In celebration of the Great Pumpkin on its most auspicious day, here are a few fun facts we were surprised to learn recently:
- Pumpkin seeds date back 9,000 years to prehistoric Mexico. Today, they grow on every continent except Antarctica.
- Native Americans grew pumpkins along with corn and beans in the what is called the “Three Sisters Method”—corn grows tall and serves as a trellis for the beans; the beans help fertilize the soil for the corn; and pumpkins help protect the corn’s shallow roots and prevent the growth of weeds.
- While there are many origins to the word “jack-o’-lantern,” historians generally accept that they became a Halloween tradition began in Ireland, where the Celts carved turnips on All Hallow’s Eve and placed an ember in them to ward off evil spirits. Irish immigrants likely brought the tradition the United States in the 19th century.
- Jack-o’-lanterns have a long tradition of folklore, including the story of the “Will-o’-the-wisp” (an atmospheric ghost-light over bogs and marshes) and Washington Irving’s story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in which a headless horseman rides around with a pumpkin for a head.
- The largest pumpkin pie ever made was more than five feet in diameter and weighed more than 350 pounds. The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed more than half a ton (1,140 pounds). Visit the University of Illinois’ extension office page for more pumpkin statistic.
Linus may have been disappointed to miss the “Great Pumpkin” at the end of the Peanuts special, but that doesn’t make your everyday pumpkin any less great. Whether you’re carving (or painting) an ornate jack-o’-lantern or gathering filling for a classic pie, take a few moments to reflect on what a fascinating vegetable pumpkins truly are.