October 30, 2007

The Great Blaze and Pictures of my Funkins

It’s no secret that I just love Halloween and I was thrilled to attend the third annual Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze held at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. It’s truly an extravaganza with more than 4,000 individually hand-carved and illuminated pumpkins on display. Michael Natiello is Blaze’s creative director and he, with the help of about 15 others, designed and carved out all the pumpkins.

Dating back to the 18-century, Van Cortlandt Manor has been completely restored and is open to the public year round. Visitors can experience what it was like to live back then, as costumed guides demonstrate crafts and tasks of that period, such as brick-making, blacksmithing, weaving, and candle-making. Michael feels that at night the Manor’s riverside landscape becomes spooky and mysterious -- the perfect setting for this event. And with all the eerie music and sound effects, I could not agree more. 

Watch exclusive video from the Great Blaze!

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I went on Saturday night, this picture from www.activityholidaysguide.com  gives you an idea what I saw!

Are these pumpkins real? Some are, but many of them are actually Funkins made from polyurethane foam. Funkins are becoming quite popular because, like a real pumpkin, you can carve a Funkin without the mess of seeds and pulp. And if you do carve a masterpiece, you can save it to use again next year.

I am sure many of you are wondering about the origins of the Jack-o’-lanterns, they have always been true symbols of Halloween, but just how did this tradition of carving pumpkins come about? Quite interestingly, it can be traced back to the very origins of Halloween itself. The ancient Celts of northern Europe recognized only two seasons and at the end of summer, they celebrated their harvest with a festival. The Celts believed that on this night, spirits both good and bad roamed the earth. People dressed up as ghouls and ghosts in order to blend in with the real ones. For added protection, wine and tasty treats were set out to keep the spirits happy. And the people led parades out of town in the hope of luring evil spirits away from their homes.

Meanwhile, Druid priests build elaborate hilltop bonfires to encourage the sun to return at the end of winter. These fires were thought to bring good fortune, and families would rebuild the fires in their hearths with embers from the Druid’s fire. They carried the burning embers in hollowed-out turnips, which had scary faces carved into them to fend off any spirits they might encounter on their way home. These were the very first Jack-o’-lanterns, later replaced, of course, by pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. Happy Halloween to all!

Here are some funkin Jack-o’-lantern decorations at my house (I took these on Friday last week)

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Tomorrow I'll post a few pictures of Halloween decorations in my home. I will also give you some great tips on baking pumpkin seeds!