It’s that time of year again (my favorite time) – autumn – and that means pumpkins are abundant. I love these little babies. Each punkie seems to have its own personality and presence. From warty ones to ghostie white ones – pumpkins make me giddy. So, as is par for the course, I thought it would be nifty-keen to talk a bit about the symbolic meaning of pumpkins as a sign of this glorious time of year.
Table of Contents
- What’s In a Name? The Etymology of the Word Pumpkin
- Where do Pumpkins Originate?
- Beauty is Only Skin Deep – About Pumpkin Appearances
- Symbolism of Pumpkin Colors
- Interesting Trivia About Pumpkin Development and Their Edible Potential
- More About Culinary Potentials of Pumpkins
- Pumpkins, Festivals, and Celebrations
- What is the Symbolic Meaning of Pumpkins?
- Frequently Asked Questions About Pumpkins
- Final Thoughts on the Symbolic Meaning of Pumpkins
What’s In a Name? The Etymology of the Word Pumpkin
We could argue that a pumpkin by any other name will still be just as sweet, but in reality, the word “pumpkin” isn’t the same today as it was in early history. In fact, the ancient Greeks coined the term “pepon” (meaning “large melon”) to describe pumpkin-like vegetation.
The word pepon got massaged a bit in the French language, who dubbed these bulky beauties as “pompon.” Later, the term was known as “pumpion” in British terminology. Ultimately, when more Europeans migrated to populate what we now know as the United States, the term “pumpion” became “pumpkin” in the mash-up of dialects and languages that mixed together in the 17th century in the US.
References to “squash” and “pumpkin” are interchangeable, because – technically, pumpkins are winter squash. Sometimes pumpkins might be referenced as gourds, which is also a correct identification.
Where do Pumpkins Originate?
You can find pumpkins growing all around the world except for Antarctica which does not provide a viable climate for their growth and survival. The earliest pumpkin on record is from South America where archeologists have found pumpkin remnants dating back to 5000 – 6900 BC.
In the US, Illinois is known as the champion of pumpkin-producers, making claim of producing over 80% of the world’s stash of canned pumpkin. Indiana, Pennsylvania, California, and Ohio are tight in the running for top-ranking growers of pumpkins and producers of pumpkin products in the US.
New York is also a top contender in pumpkin growing. While most folks associate NY with the Big Apple (NYC), it might be interesting to note that the state devotes almost 7000 acres to cultivating pumpkins and churns out a cool $20+ million a year in pumpkin production each year.
Beauty is Only Skin Deep – About Pumpkin Appearances
In their original days, pumpkins were likely a luscious amber-orange color. They start out green, and then the more they ripen, they blossom into yellow and then darker hues of orange. Today, clever cultivators of pumpkins have capitalized on different varieties of pumpkins. From white to warty, you can get just about any color you can imagine. The variation in colors and textures of pumpkins is all down to how they are grown.
For instance, warty pumpkins (those gourds that are bumpy or with bubbly-boiled exterior appearances) get that look from something called “corking.” Corking is the process in which the sugar content in the punkie becomes so intense that the sugary juices on the inside of the pumpkin exude out to the external flesh – causing the end appearance to look wickedly, wonderfully, warty.
And what about those white pumpkins, also known as ghost pumpkins? Their specter hue boils down to genetics. Clever scientists got together with farmers to produce that very distinctive hue. Therefore, white pumpkins are not naturally that color – they’ve been bred to look like that.
Symbolism of Pumpkin Colors
- Yellow: These happy pumpkins are symbolic of joy, cheer, happiness and friendship
- Orange: Orange pumpkins are symbolic of memory, connection, celebration, appreciation, and community
- White: White pumpkins are symbolic of honoring loved ones who have passed into non-physical. White pumpkins can also represent themes of clarity, purification, and good intentions
- Red: Not only do these ruddy hued babies represent a deep ripeness, they also symbolize ideals such as passion, assertion, love, life (blood), ritual, and devotion
- Green: These pumpkins indicate an unripe nature, but green pumpkins are also symbolic of new beginnings, innocence, potential, and opportunity
Interesting Trivia About Pumpkin Development and Their Edible Potential
Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. On average, a pumpkin is about 10-15 pounds. However, according to the Guinness Book of World Records the largest and heaviest pumpkin plumped up to 2702 pounds (that’s over one ton, folks. Whoa!) in 2021.
The average pumpkin produces about 600-800 seeds, which yield incredible nutritional value, and pumpkin seeds are used around the world as culinary accents as well as dietary allies. Interestingly enough, pumpkins have both female and male flowers (they resemble zucchini flowers, blooming proudly in a trumpet-like or fluted yellowish-orange blossom). Moreover, pumpkin blossoms can be eaten in much the same way zucchini blossoms are – so cooked, raw, or fried – give a stuffed pumpkin blossom recipe a try today.
One of the lovely things about pumpkins deals with their versatility in consuming them. All parts of these glorious wonders are edible. That means you can eat the skin, pulp, flowers, leaves, and even the stems! In fact, pumpkins are an amazing source of magnesium, zinc, fiber, healthy fatty acids, copper, and vitamins B1, B6, A and C. Pumpkins can also be a great regulator for irritable bowels. In fact, I feed my dogs pure pumpkin pulp when their tummies are a bit upset (check with your vet, as I did, before feeding your dogs pumpkin).
More About Culinary Potentials of Pumpkins
If you’ve ever scooped a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds into your mouth, then you know these lovely gourds have flavor and nutritional value in spades. But what you might not realize is that pumpkins have been a food source relied upon in communities all over the world – and for eons. For instance, pumpkins are essential for poultry farmers who feed pumpkin pulp to chickens for better egg production.
Moreover, pumpkin seed oil has been recognized as a champion for healthy fatty acids, and is often used in deep frying (known as tempura) veggies and such in Japan. In Thailand and Burma (Myanmar), pumpkins are utilized for delicious desserts such as custards and candies. In nearby Vietnam, pumpkins are used as a piquant element in stews and shrimp dishes. And no culinary commentary on pumpkins can stand on its own without mentioning the drool-worthy delights of pumpkin ravioli credited to Italian chefs.
Pumpkins, Festivals, and Celebrations
As you might expect, pumpkins play a huge role during this time of year – and autumn is a time of year that is replete with various celebrations around the world. Overwhelmingly, the symbolic meaning of pumpkins is synonymous with harvest time. They are lovely symbols that indicate a time to reap what we’ve planted as well as be grateful for the bounty we can enjoy for the long winters ahead – at least that’s how our ancestors likely viewed these precious squashy presences.
For instance, pumpkins were cultivated by the ancient Aztecs, and scooped out for their nutritional inner value. There is some evidence that Aztecs also carved faces into scooped-out pumpkins, in a very similar way we see jack-o-lanterns today.
Most of you might be familiar with today’s idea of carving spooky faces into pumpkin hulls. While many cultures did this, the most well-known history of jack-o-lanterns comes from ancient Europe. Originally, folks from old Europe (specifically, Ireland) carved faces into turnips to ward off evil spirits during the sacred holiday of Samhain. As more Irish and Europeans began to migrate to the United States, turnips were not as plentiful – but pumpkins were abundant. Therefore, instead of turnip lanterns used to stave off nefarious spirits – pumpkins were adopted for the purpose.
And while I’m hyper-focused on October celebrations, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the relevance and symbolic meaning of pumpkins during November. I’m talking about Thanksgiving. Because pumpkins are coming into their full prime and plucked to their peak around this time, they have been an icon for the season of gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving.
What is the Symbolic Meaning of Pumpkins?
Because these lovelies crop up during a transitional phase of the year (fall/autumn), they inherently hold symbolism of transition, change, and they represent aspects of life that are replete with potential. Think about holding a pumpkin, and then consider they are a vessel for new life. For instance, in many cultures (particularly old European), pumpkins are symbolic of pregnancy and the potential for new birth. In this respect, pumpkins are iconic for new beginnings, fertility, fecundity, and new birth.
Pumpkins are also symbolic vessels of the harvest. If you remember that harvest time in ancient cultures was a super-busy time, and it also signifies a time of unknown (meaning, not knowing what the upcoming winters might present) – pumpkins retain a symbolic message that is both protective during uncertain times as well as harbingers of hope. In various cultures (Irish, Native American, French – to name a few) in ancient times, the symbolic meaning of pumpkins was akin to protection, and potential.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pumpkins
Because the pumpkin has seeds and flowers, it is technically a fruit. In the same way the tomato is confused as a veggie, the pumpkin is often misperceived as a veggie too. Now, although the pumpkin is classified as a fruit, it is also a gourd from the genus Cucurbita. That’s a fancy way of saying these are soft-skinned gourds in the squash family that enjoy a great amount of praise for their place in both festivals this time of year and their nutritional value.
Every dream is different to every dreamer. However, dreaming of pumpkins (due to their rich history in various cultures) may signify a time of new birth. Remember that pumpkins are an iconic symbol of harvest. Therefore, in a dream, pumpkins may symbolize a time to reap what we’ve sown, give birth to new ideas, and harvest the fruits of our labors.
Way before we started carving faces into pumpkins for Halloween, they were used for nutrition. In fact, pumpkins were a core crop for Native Americans and Pre-Columbian natives – feeding the entire community through tough winter months. The fiber, oils, vitamins and nutrients in pumpkins are the perfect solution to keeping many people fed and content in the midst of dwindling natural resources during the winter.
In addition to the symbolic meaning of pumpkins dealing with renewal, rebirth, and opportunity – they also represent concepts of community, sharing, kinship, friendship and more. When you recognize that pumpkins (and all their nutritious goodness) have been shared over history in clans, tribes, and communities (such as pumpkin pies, roasted seeds, etc), then you get the idea of a celebration. Therefore, coming together, uniting and celebrating the bounty is what pumpkins signify. Celebrations are all about sharing, and you could say that the lovely largesse of yummy and nutritional wealth pumpkins provide is synonymous (symbolically) of a sharing vibe.
Final Thoughts on the Symbolic Meaning of Pumpkins
No matter how you celebrate pumpkins, they are worthy of celebration. They are an impressive nutritive source that have been feeding our earth’s soil, our people, animals, birds, and insects since their existence on this planet. They’ve also been a source of incredible whimsy and celebration. Whether warding off evil spirits during Halloween, or honoring loved ones by lighting a candle within their hollowed-out shells – pumpkins are exceptionally versatile and worthy of high praise. I hope these insights into the symbolic meaning of pumpkins was illuminating for you. As always, thanks for reading!
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