Halloween: our favorite holiday. A time when ghosts float, zombies crawl out of graves, and Jack O’Lanterns glow in windows and streets. Now a sugar-coated festival of costumes, tricks, and treats, Halloween dates back centuries. Originating as a Celtic festival, Samhain, the day ushered in the new year, when crops were harvested and the world quieted for its annual winter death. Many cultures believe that this transition between seasons is a day when spirits rise to commune with the living. Dia de los Muertos, a three-day Mexican festival beginning on October 31, is one such representation, culminating on All Souls Day, which honors the dead.
Jack O’Lanterns have their own unique history, attributed to Irish folklore: The Legend of Stingy Jack. The story goes that Jack tricked the devil one too many times, and upon his death was doomed to walk the earth with a hot coal as his only light. Jack placed the coal in a hollowed out turnip, and roamed the roads of Ireland as a ghoulish, glowing figure. Today, carved pumpkins are used as a ward against evil spirits, or simply to dress up a town for the festival of Halloween.
In Keene, NH, celebrating Halloween has not only become a town tradition, but a Guinness World Record event. In 2012, Keene was even featured on HGTV’s Pumpkin Wars, hosted by Drew and Jonathan Scott. Keene’s last record-setting win occurred in 2006, and we held high hopes for a new world record to be set during our trip. Join us as we walk the pumpkin-and-leaf-filled streets, watching the orange glow ascend atop the pumpkin tower. Hold your breath for the final count at the end of the night. Be sure to weigh in on our polls below: Your Halloween Carvings, and Favorite Halloween Treats.
We arrive at the Pumpkin Festival in the afternoon, and I skip through a cascade of leaves before we even enter the pumpkin gates. Several orange-tented welcome booths accept donations, and log Jack O’Lanterns brought by visitors. A wonderful array of merchandise is for sale at pumpkin shops throughout the festival grounds. We purchase a “Let it Shine” bumper sticker and shot glass in support of next year’s 23rd annual festival.
We encounter our share of monsters along the way.
Dusk settles in Keene, and the flame carts circulate, lighting the pumpkins, a process which takes about four hours. Everyone is encouraged to ensure that all the pumpkins are lit for the final count. Unlit pumpkins will not be included in the judging. Quick, grab a candle!
A crowd gathers around folk musicians and dancers, celebrating the pumpkin festival with traditional dances.
Night closes in and the tower of pumpkins offers an eerie glow. While we wait for the official record keepers to tally the numbers, we enjoy some homemade pumpkin fudge on a street corner. It’s delicious and the recipe is going on my fall baking list.
The numbers are in. Keene’s Let it Shine Pumpkin Festival 2013 brought their eighth Guinness World Record for “Most Lit Jack O’Lanterns” with a stunning 30,581 pumpkins, beating out the previous record held by Boston. We can’t wait to return next year with pumpkins of our own to contribute. For now, here are the pumpkins we carved at home:
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