What is the real meaning of Halloween?

Halloween was originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. … The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.

Who started Halloween?

Halloween began as the festival of Samhain. It was part of the ancient Celtic religion in Britain and other parts of Europe. At the end of summer, the Celts thought the barrier between our world and the world of ghosts and spirits got really thin.

How did Trick or Treating start?

In North America, trick-or-treating has been a Halloween tradition since the late 1920s. In Britain and Ireland the tradition of going house-to-house collecting food at Halloween goes back at least as far as the 16th century, as had the tradition of people wearing costumes at Halloween.

How is Halloween Celebrated?

Many Americans celebrate the traditions of Halloween by dressing in costumes and telling tales of witches and ghosts. Pumpkins are carved into glowering jack-o’-lanterns. Children parade from house to house, knocking on doors and calling out “Trick or treat!” hoping to have their bags filled with candy.

Why do we Carve Pumpkins at Halloween?

Pumpkins are a Symbol of Halloween. The tradition of carving faces into vegetables dates to the Celts. As part of their autumnal celebration, they wanted to light the way to their homes for the good spirits, so they carved faces into vegetables such as turnips and squash.

Check out our experiments page and make some “Pumpkin Putty” with the children.   http://sciencemadefunwnc.net/experiments.cfm

Hope everyone has a fun and safe Halloween!

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Great Pumpkin Science!

Great Pumpkin Science

It’s October, which means it is pumpkin time!  Pumpkins are a North American fall staple known for their bright orange hue, hard skin, and round shape.  We bake goodies, decorate with, and carve pumpkins every year, but what makes them special and how did our traditions start?

Pumpkins are a cultivator of Cucurbita pepo, which is a family of squash plants.  A cultivator is simply a group of plants preferred or propagated because of specific desirable qualities.  For pumpkins, that is their color, size, and shape and as pumpkin enthusiasts propagate the plants they can enhance certain features. Everyone is on the hunt each year for the perfectly round, bright orange pumpkin to carve and farmers deliver through their propagation efforts. Think of it like a combination of nature and nurture; the traits are there but we breed the plants to enhance the results.  There is one type of pumpkin that has grown HUGE; Cucurbita maxima aka the giant pumpkin.

Thirty or so years ago, the biggest pumpkin ever was only around 500lbs, but now the world record for largest pumpkin ever weighed in at 2,625lbs!  How did this massive growth happen?  Most giant pumpkin growers propagate that specific species with seeds originating from one specific award-winning Atlantic Giant variety of pumpkin.  Their cultivation has one goal: size.  They focus their energy on that trait as they propagate and their efforts echo across future generations producing bigger and bigger pumpkins over time.

What makes this type of giant pumpkin different from your regular garden variety is that it has oversize phloem.  Plants have two types of tissue responsible for moving nutrients and water around a plant: xylem and phloem.  Xylem moves water and phloem moves sugar or food.  Pumpkins are 90% water but can grow bigger and bigger because of the efficiency of their supersize phloem.  Regular pumpkins are already large compared to other squash and giant pumpkins are even larger.

This trait is further manipulated by cultivators who add beneficial fungi, pruning techniques, special greenhouse conditions and other methods to the mix. Mycorrhizal fungi will happily colonize the pumpkin’s roots and enter a symbiotic relationship that benefits them both.  Thanks to the fungi, pumpkin can more efficiently pick up nutrients in the soil and transport them on their phloem superhighway, and in exchange the fungi gets essential carbohydrates necessary for their survival. More nutrients and bigger phloem add up to huge growth in the pumpkin world!

Pruning a plant’s blossoms down to just a few also helps with growing giant pumpkins because more resources are dedicated to those few pumpkins versus spreading the resources out to many pumpkins.  Again, the goal is to produce a few giants versus many regular-size pumpkins.

Some competition growers also use greenhouses to completely control the environment around their pumpkin.  This takes the guess work out of weather conditions and can prevent them from losing their prize-winning pumpkin to drought or too much rain.  Do you think you’d want to try growing a giant pumpkin? Or maybe you just want to stick with carving the standard 12lb variety.

Pumpkin carving is a great example of America’s culture being a melting pot of ideas.  Pumpkins are from North America but carving vegetables for Halloween is from Ireland!

Jack o’ Lanterns have been around for centuries and originated around the Irish myth of Stingy Jack.  People would carve turnips and put an ember inside on all hallows eve to keep evil spirits and Stingy Jack away.  When Irish immigrants arrived in America, they brought their tradition with them and switched to the easier-to-carve pumpkin.




When you carve pumpkins this year, you can try a cool experiment that makes them erupt!

Carve your pumpkin like usual but in the bottom of the inside of the pumpkin put a generous amount of baking soda plus some food dye.  While outside, pour vinegar into the top of the pumpkin and watch as the pumpkin erupts with a fun science volcano effect.  It might pour all out of the mouth or also out of the eyes and nose!

Check out our other SPOOKTACULAR science experiments here!


Happy Halloween!




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