The autumn equinox has passed. Sweaters have been taken down from the attic. Most importantly, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has returned to Starbucks. Fall has finally fallen (on the Northern Hemisphere, at least), and if you're not already in the spooky spirit, you will be soon. One of the most entertaining traditions, of course, is Halloween pumpkin carving. Usually, it's best to leave jack-o-lanterns until mid-October, so all your hard work doesn't rot away before the big day. Nothing is so disappointing as watching the beloved, smiling gourd you so carefully chose wither away into a shriveled, angry mess. But that doesn't mean you can't start planning your pumpkin as soon as you feel like it.
Unlike many contemporary Halloween traditions, the carving of jack-o-lanterns has been around for quite some time. The practice stems from an Irish folk tale about a man named "Stingy Jack." According to legend, he was a tricky fellow. For one thing, the man once convinced the Devil to turn into a coin to pay for their drinks. Rather than paying, Stingy Jack slipped the coin into his pocket next to a silver cross, keeping the Devil trapped until Stingy Jack freed him on two conditions: that the Devil promise not to claim his soul when he died, and that he not bother Stingy Jack for a year.
At the end of the year, the man tricked the Devil again; this time, he was trapped in a tree and promised not to bother Stingy Jack for 10 years. When he eventually died, he was rejected from heaven and hell for being too clever. In the end, Stingy Jack was doomed to wander the earth forever, with only a burning coal to help him see. Being such a smart guy, though, he hollowed out a turnip and placed the coal inside, so it wouldn't burn his fingers.
To frighten away the folkloric figure and other evil spirits, people in Ireland and Scotland began carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes. When some immigrated to the United States, they brought the custom with them — and discovered that pumpkins, which are native to North America, make even better jack-o-lanterns.
Today, it's impossible to imagine Halloween without jack-o-lanterns. Each year, some people are able to create intricate, delicate works of art on their pumpkins, but that takes serious dedication. If you're just looking to make a jack-o-lantern that won't embarrass you to put out on the porch, here are 17 simple ways to carve a pumpkin this fall.
The smiling jack-o-lantern is a tradition for a reason, and that reason is that it's super easy. Circles are difficult to carve, so cut out squares or triangles for the eyes. Use a serrated knife, and you should be able to carve the smiling mouth easily.
Even pumpkins get scared by Halloween decorations, sometimes. Watch the video above to learn how to carve a terrified pumpkin.
Honestly, a cat might be a tad ambitious, but carving a bat isn't too difficult. Just be careful around the delicate ears, so you don't accidentally carve them too thin.
4. A Bit Unbalanced
This pumpkin carving may or may not have recently escaped a mental hospital. Watch the video above to learn how to carve it yourself.
5. A Devilish Smirk
Stretch the edges of your pumpkin's smile wider than they should comfortably go, like the pumpkin on the right in the post above, and voila! Your jack-o-lantern is way scarier.
6. Your Name
If you have a short first or last name, use a stencil to write the letters on the pumpkin. Carve along those lines, and you'll have a jack-o-lantern with your name on it, literally.
7. Fall Leaves
Fallen leaves are the face of autumn. You can find a printable fall leaf stencil here. If you want to get a little fancy, repeat it across the pumpkin's surface.
Use a ruler to make sure the strands of the web are straight. You can find a spider pumpkin carving tutorial here.
9. Leave A Message
It's the most terrifying message of all: The wifi is down. Use letter stencils to carve pretty much any message you want on your pumpkin.
10. Vampire Gourd
Your pumpkin wants to suck your blood, probably in revenge for hollowing out its guts. To make your pumpkin a vampire, simply carve triangular teeth instead of square ones.
11. Heart Eyes
Nothing makes your visitors feel welcome like a heart-eyed pumpkin staring them in the face.
13. Wacky Eyes
To create a hypnotized pumpkin, just carve spirals instead of triangles for its eyes.
Ghosts are an integral part of Halloween, and there are plenty of ghost carving tutorials to check out online.
15. The Moon
A crescent moon is easy enough to carve; it's basically a jack-o-lantern smile turned on its side. Add some stars for good measure.
16. Harry Potter
To turn him into Harry Potter, simply give your regular jack-o-lantern some glasses and a lightning bolt scar.
Play around with your pumpkin's expressions; to make it surprised, just carve an open mouth instead of a frown or grin.
Even if you aren't the craftiest person normally, there are plenty of ways you can carve a pumpkin without becoming the laughingstock of trick-or-treaters everywhere. Besides, if that does happen, you can always turn your pumpkin fail into pie and start with a fresh one.