April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Carving the first Jack-o'-Lantern

Yes, Halloween was well past, and Thanksgiving had come and gone. Christmas might have been fast approaching even. But that did not dampen the enthusiasm of our neighbors for carving their first ever jack-o'-lantern, perhaps because the idea is very similar to their burning of a New Year's muñeca (life-sized doll). (We'll post more about that when we come back out of site after New Year's, or you can check out our post from last year's holidays at http://ak-panama.blogspot.com/2008/01/how-we-celebrated-holidays-2007.html.)

It was while April was off-island, and I was solito y llorando (alone and crying), as our neighbors love to joke, so when I stopped by to chat and asked if they were interested in carving a jack-o'-lantern, faces lit up like there was a candle inside. They were familiar with the look from watching the movie Halloween over the years (I can't imagine being 10 or 12 and watching Halloween on a 13" black&white TV without lights and then going to bed in the pitch black) but had never seen a carving done.

The first step was to draw "scary faces". I brought up paper and markers, with a little encouragement to change the white page to something scary, they started trying out designs, and pretty soon we had several good sets of flaming eyes and gnashing teeth.

(Milagros, Leidys, and Eneida - Milagros' mom -, drawing "scary faces" for consideration for carving)

Since we didn't have a pumpkin, we used a zapallo, which is a pumpkin-like squash with slightly tougher meat and a more ridged skin, but very similar - and roastable - seeds. Once the kids (and adults) had finished drawing, the top was cut off the zapallo, and volunteers were recruited to clear out the guts (which come out much easier than a pumpkin, it seems).

(Leidys, Noritza, and Dianeth cleaning out the inside of the zapallo. The first reaction: "wow that's cold!")

Next they picked what they wanted to carve and we drew it on the zapallo. They selected our neighbor mom Eneida to wield the knife, and she did a rapid and detailed job of carving the face.

(Panamanians like Eneida are adept at knife work, perhaps from gutting fish and chickens for meals on a regular basis)

Then it was time to light the candle. Even though it was still light outside, everyone was excited to watch.

(Ceremonial first lighting of the jack-o'-lantern)

Here is the carved result, with Elvis and Eneida for comparison purposes. We'll put up some pictures taken in the dark, after April returned, when we come out next.

(For the first time ever carving a jack-o'-lantern, it was a pretty scary result!)

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