How ‘American’ are pumpkins? During September and some of October, I saw zero traces of pumpkins in Scotland. Pumpkins, which I consider staple decorations and ingredients in the fall (or ‘autumn’ for the Brits), were not around!
To tame my curiosities and frustrations, I learned about pumpkins in the UK from The Guardian and BBC. I thought the article in The Guardian was funny because the American who wrote it discouraged the introduction of ‘the seasonal icon’ into British culture. Who does he think he is? The author went on to say that Americans love the idea of pumpkins and PSLs (Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks), but that Americans never actually eat their carved pumpkins. Hating that Americans reduce seasonality to an artificial flavour’ in PSLs, pumpkin soups, pumpkin raviolis and more, the author argued that squash is the real autumn vegetable and that the British have that down. Although the American writer condemned the introduction of pumpkins (or rather the flavor of pumpkins) to the UK, the BBC article showed just how popular pumpkins have become in Britain. Quantitatively, in 2011, Brits bought one million pumpkins for Halloween. Also, there is a pumpkin-growing market in the UK; David Bowman (in Spalding in Lincolnshire, England) grows 2 million pumpkins each year and is Europe’s largest pumpkin based producer! I can vouch that there was a surplus of pumpkins at Tesco–on sale for 2 pumpkins for 3 pounds every week in October–so its evident that pumpkin production is dominating pumpkin purchasing these days.
I also can vouch that Starbucks in Edinburgh has delicious PSLs (that is, Pumpkin Spice Lattes).
I also learned that Celts carved turnips or potatoes during the pagan celebration of Samuin, or Samhain, way before North America had ‘Americans’ or Jack-o-Lanterns. On the holiday of Samhain (on October 31st), Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and warned away evil spirits by putting lit, carved turnips in their homes. After Christianity spread to Ireland and Scotland, the people continued to remember their past Celtic traditions of carving turnips–and later pumpkins–on All Hallow’s Eve (on October 31st).
I celebrated Halloween (and evidently Samhain, too) in Edinburgh with my American Georgetown friends. We went out to Frankenstein Pub…how appropriate, right? Four of my friends from Georgetown and I played on our Halloween in the UK by dressing as the Spice Girls!