Jack-o’-lanterns and Americanism 101.

Somehow, long before he met me and for reasons no one will ever know, Callaghan managed to live in the United States for 10 years without ever carving a jack-o’-lantern.

In my mind, this is tantamount to not knowing what Halloween actually is in America, which in turn says to me that Callaghan hasn’t been a real American. All this time, his dual citizenship has been fraudulent.

Believe me, I did not arrive at this conclusion lightly. Thinking about it, though, I do see a pattern here.

Callaghan knew about St. Patrick’s Day parades and green beer, but he didn’t know that Americans (especially kids) make sure they leave the house with the color green visible somewhere in their outfits, even if it’s just shoe laces, a hair tie, or a pin… or others who are displaying green can pinch them.

He knew about Valentine’s Day roses and chocolates, but he didn’t know that American kids traditionally give their friends and classmates valentines that contain simple and often humorous verses. (Roses are red, violets are blue….)

He knew about Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating, and maybe even about classroom-decorating and school costume parades, contests, and parties, but he didn’t know the most fundamental part of the holiday – how to carve a jack-o’-lantern – because he’d never done it.

I get it. Since he first moved to the States as an adult, he missed out on the kids’ aspects of these and other holidays. But it’s those aspects that define the holidays more than the adult ones, in my opinion. Especially Halloween.

Since the ruthless slashing and carving of a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern constitutes a basic American Halloween activity we’ve all done at least once in our lives, a logical question on the United States citizenship exam would be, “Have you ever carved a jack-o’-lantern?”

“No” means try again later. “Yes” means here’s a pumpkin and a knife… prove it.

Prospective employers weed out the liars and the frauds the same exact way, like when I interviewed for the job I had before I moved to France. They took me into a room with a lightbulb hanging over a lonely chair computer, sat me down, gave me some basic information, and instructed me to compose a letter on behalf of a fictional boss. I knew nothing about the subject, and that was the point. They just told me the name of the addressee, the name of the fictional boss, and the goal of the letter. I’d written many such letters before, which showed, I guess, since I got the job.

In the same scenario (but with a pumpkin and a knife instead of a computer), Callaghan would not have gotten the “job” (his citizenship).

Instead of being asked about jack-o’-lanterns, he was asked silly things like Who is the current President? And Why are there 50 stars on the flag?

First of all, duh. Secondly, where is that kind of knowledge going to get anyone in terms of being a real American? A full-grown adult who’s never carved a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween is certainly from another country, if you ask me. It’s a dead giveaway. (har, har)

Callaghan would have failed his citizenship exam because you can’t fake your way through carving a jack-o’-lantern. It’s not self-explanatory. It seems like a simple thing, but until Saturday night:

–He didn’t know how to choose a pumpkin for a jack-o’-lantern.

–He didn’t know about carving around the stem to make a lid.

–He didn’t know that pumpkins are hollow.

–He didn’t know about scraping away the stringy pulp.

–He didn’t know about gathering the seeds and rinsing, drying and toasting them, because…

–He didn’t know that Americans like to eat pumpkin seeds…

–because pumpkins are totally New World, and Old World people can’t know these things through osmosis just because they’re in the States.

Callaghan didn’t know anything about jack-o’-lanterns, and I loved it. I loved that somehow, miraculously, I was the person to pop his…. He learned about jack-o’-lanterns from me. Of all the many Americans he met and befriended over the years, I got to be the person to show him!

He seemed disinterested at first, but then he saw me draw the face on my pumpkin. He’s an artist, remember, and I had his attention. He watched as I wielded the knife to carve around the stem, and I invited him to lift the lid off the pumpkin. I’ll never forget the surprise in his voice or the expression of wonderment on his face when he looked inside the pumpkin and said, “It’s HOLLOW!!”

Sharing that moment of discovery with him will always be one of my favorite memories.

After we finished the jack-o’-lantern, he wanted to run out to get another pumpkin, so we did. (Since we’re in the States, we were able to do that, even though it was almost midnight.)

Here we are in the parking lot, as those of you on Facebook have already seen:

 

In front of Safeway at around 11:30pm. Midnight pumpkin run!

In front of Safeway at around 11:30pm. Midnight pumpkin run!

 

And here he is, posing like the Headless Horseman from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a classic bit of American literature from 1820:

 

The Callaghan Horseman.

The Callaghan Horseman.

 

The Headless Horseman.

The Headless Horseman.

 

We lit the jack-o’-lantern with a tea light so we wouldn’t have to worry about it, and the flame would burn itself out.

 

The spooky jack-o'-lantern we light in our bedroom every night.

The spooky jack-o’-lantern we light in our bedroom every night.

 

Jack-o’-lanterns and accompanying folklore such as the Headless Horseman came to America from Ireland or northern Europe, I believe. American culture contains this bewitching mélange of other cultures. Our traditions come from everywhere. America is a glorious mutt. 

And we love the cutthroat culture of Halloween. No mercy for pumpkins!

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