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.