Halloween is my favorite holiday. As the days grow short and the leaves turn, I’m filled with an irresistible desire to carve a pumpkin. As the end of the month approached, I was determined to share this passion with my students at Suzhou No. 10 High School.
I decided to let my students make their own Jack-o-Lanterns to get them in the holiday mood. In a bout of optimism, I bought them all pumpkins. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought about how they were going to carve the things. While China offers an abundance of pumpkins, they don’t have things like safe pumpkin carving knives.
Even looking for less child-proofed options proved futile.
Since I wasn’t comfortable having my students wielding actual knives in class, it seemed my efforts were going to be thwarted before they even began. I was left with a pile of unusable pumpkins.
One of my friends from back home suggested that maybe I should have them simply paint the pumpkins or draw on them. At first, I rejected this idea.
I wanted my kids to have a real Jack-o-Lanterns, not some lame substitute. Yet, as I considered it, there was a solution in the suggestion. Why not have the kids draw the faces on the pumpkins, and then I could carve them over the weekend?
My coworkers, already puzzled at my buying a pile of pumpkins with no intention of eating them, thought this plan was insane. Perhaps it was. Carving a pumpkin or two for oneself is fun. Carving 15 pumpkins designed by children with no concept of the limits of gourds as objects of sculpture, was an altogether different proposition.
15 times as fun!
As I watched my students gleefully draw curlicues, pupils, lips, and other intricate details on their pumpkins, I began to think that maybe I’d gotten in over my head. But they were having so much fun, and I’d already made the mad promise that I’d have them all carved over the weekend.
Besides, if carving one pumpkin is fun, carving 15 should be 15 times as fun… right? I kept telling myself this lie as I hauled the pumpkins home.
Worried, but undaunted, I began carving. It soon became clear that, without a proper knife, this was going to take days to accomplish. The blades on my Swiss army knife were never meant for such a purpose, and I’d yet to find even a serrated steak knife, despite having visited what felt like every shop and corner store in Suzhou.
After banging my head against the wall and cursing China for its lack of requisite Halloween accouterments, my eye was caught by the rotary tool I use to carve sculptures in stone (a hobby that descended directly from my love of carving Jack-o-lanterns). I realized that, with the right materials and a bit of grinding, I could make my own pumpkin knife.
A trip to the hardware store and a couple painstaking hours later, I had crafted a workable pumpkin knife out of a hacksaw blade, a knife sheath and some screws.
It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. It stabbed, cut and cornered as well as anything I’d used. More importantly, where the first pumpkin had taken me the better part of an hour, the later ones were done in minutes.
Though at times I found my energy waning, after each completed pumpkin, I posted a picture on WeChat for the students to see. Their absolute delight was enough to drive me to lobotomize the next pumpkin and scoop out its brains.
(Note: Though China lacks appropriate carving knives, a rice spoon is the best pumpkin scoop I’ve ever encountered)
Below you will find some of the Jack-o-lanterns designed by Chinese sophomores and carved by yours truly. Warning: some of these images are overwhelmingly adorable.
All together they made a lovely sight!
Yet the moment of truth was in the unveiling.
Sneaking into class while the students were out for their morning jog, I put their lanterns on their desks and lit candles in each. Then I drew down the curtains, turned off the lights and waited for them to return. Their response when they entered the classroom was everything I had hoped for and more.
Here’s a video of them showing off their Jack-o-lanterns and practicing their sinister/maniacal laughs.
It’s a moment I will treasure forever!
It was a lot of work, but well worth the effort to give my Chinese students a taste of Halloween!