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Good Question: Why Do We Carve Pumpkins For Halloween?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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Gallery: Creative Pumpkin Carvings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Every Halloween millions of Americans get out their knives and start pulling out pumpkin guts.

“I’m a Halloween freak and this is part of the ritual,” said Kimberly DeTuncq, of Minneapolis, who had four jack-o’-lanterns carved on her front porch.

According to the USDA, Americans spent $113 million on pumpkins in 2011. That’s a lot of carving.

But why do we carve pumpkins for Halloween?

“I’m not sure what the history is to be honest with you,” DeTuncq said.

According to David Emery, there’s a centuries old Irish legend about Stingy Jack. He was rejected after death by God and the Devil, but the Devil sent him away with a piece of burning coal. He took that coal and placed in a turnip. The jack-o’-lantern was born.

In Scotland and Ireland, people carved turnips and potatoes to ward off evil spirits, and in England they carved beets. But when they immigrated to the U.S., pumpkins took over as a fruit native to America and one that ripens perfectly in time for the fall.

“What do farm stands, grocery stores, and other places that sell pumpkins do with the remaining hundreds of them after Halloween?” asked Heather Schultz from Elk River.

“If they’re not donated, they will be composted,” said Craig Gilb, manager of Untiedt’s pumpkin market in Minnetonka.

According to Gilb, many local residents pick up leftover pumpkins after Halloween to use for pumpkin seeds, composting at home or for food for wild animals.

“Hogs go wild over these,” he said. “We have had hog farmers pick these up.”

A local food shelf picks up the squash, pie pumpkins and decorative edible pumpkins. The rest are sent away to be composted.

“A majority will be picked up by local customers,” he said.

The local Boy Scout troop also gets them for their pumpkin chucking contest.

“Every year we need 50 to 60 pumpkins,” said Mark Weibel of Minnetonka Boy Scout Troop 346. “These guys have been great about donating them for a good cause.”

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