On Jack-o’-Lanterns and History: Cultural Exchange Chasing Away the Darkness

November 2015 Guidepost to Wholehearted Living
Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

–Max Ehrmann, from Desiderata (1924)

As Emily mentioned in her last post on chikungunya, we’ve had a bit of a rough spell these last two months.  We’ve had some great successes and high moments (among them a great site visit and class observation from our Peace Corps boss, facilitating trainings for trainees and Estelí teachers, and seeing tangible counterpart improvement), but we couldn’t quite shake these dark feelings that’d creep up on us during our down time.

This Saturday, Halloween, was a good example.  Despite a wonderful Friday spending the morning with our community of practice, eating lunch with four trainees from Nica 66 who will be in our region, and chatting away the afternoon catching up with multiple Nicaraguan friends, our joy from the day before evaporated and we found ourselves stuck, focusing on what we were lacking: pumpkin carving with family, pumpkin patching with friends, the comfort of tradition.

We ended the day with a plan of action to make the most out of our Sunday.  We’d reach out to relationships we are cultivating here, bring our traditions to Nicaragua, and snuggle with some babies in the process 🙂

Our plan was a huge success!  We finally made it over to a friend’s house to meet his two month old chunkster, and had a wonderful visit.  Then, it was off to the local grocery store to buy some candles and the biggest ayotes that could be found.  Gourds in hand, we flagged down a taxi, paid our $0.55 each, and headed across town to visit the family of Emily’s counterpart, Ana Cecilia.

Immediately curious upon being confronted with these four sizable squash, the Vasquez family peppered us with questions about Halloween customs.  Where did it come from?  What’s up with carving pumpkins?  Why are there so many evil things about witches and death and horror? As has happened many times before (usually in English class), Emily and I realized we didn’t have a ready explanation for something that has always seemed so normal and natural to us.

Thank goodness for Google!  We learned that Halloween has roots in ancient Celtic traditions of giving offerings for a mild winter, that then was mixed with the Catholic tradition of All Saints Day on November 1st.  October 31st became known as All Hallow Even (from the verb hallow-to make holy), which was later shortened to Hallowe’en.  We also learned that Jack-o’-lanterns came from the Irish myth of “Stingy Jack”, who tricked the devil into changing into a silver coin and stuck the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross.  The devil promised Jack he wouldn’t send him to hell in exchange for being turned back into his natural form.  When Jack died he was banned from heaven for dealing with the devil.  The devil kept his word and didn’t take him to hell, and instead gave him a burning coal placed in a turnip to light his way as Jack roamed the earth.  The Irish would then carve frightening faces into potatoes and turnips and place them on their steps to ward off “Jack of the Lantern” and other evil spirits.

Turns out Nicaraguan ayotes have the same effect.  Emily and I felt so light, joyful, and grateful to be sharing in the experience with our dear Nicaraguan friend’s family.  While “pumpkin carving” was a first-time experience for everyone in the family, 1st grader Lahyeska Isayoy was especially precious.  When asked by her uncle if she would give him her squash, she said “No, it’s mine, and I’m going to sleep with it!”

Strength of spirit: nurtured.  Peace Corps 2nd Goal: achieved. November: off to a good start.


We’d love to hear your thoughts on this guidepost.  Join the conversation:
+ How do you remind yourself to be appreciative and joyful?
+ What fears keep you from experiencing joy and gratitude?  

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9 thoughts on “On Jack-o’-Lanterns and History: Cultural Exchange Chasing Away the Darkness”

  1. Great job Andrew and Emily. I feel that is one of your strong points, maybe even a super power: realizing when you’re down and why, and then coming up with a creative and meaningful plan to help bring yourselves up! The squash turned out great! I remember once when my brother, Roger, carved a huge zucchini and then put it in a cowboy boot for stability!

    1. Awe, thanks Mamma! That is such a powerful and meaningful compliment (one of your super powers, I might add). Do you know if there are any pics of Roger’s zuke? Fun memory 🙂

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