I spent last weekend with my 4-year old niece, Mira, and 2-year old nephew, Carsten. We went to the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. I loved watching their eyes widen as they’d walk into a new exhibit packed wall-to-wall with activities, toys, costumes and adventures. Mira asked questions all throughout the museum – what’s this for? Why do they have that here? How do I use this? Why do they call it that? If you’ve spent any significant time with kids, you know that kids ask tons of questions. At some point as adults, it seems we stop asking questions and just accept our surroundings just as they are.
That is… until you go to a pumpkin patch with a couple of French couch surfers.
Fall is one of our favorite seasons in the Midwest (at least one of my favorites). How can you not love leaves changing colors, hot apple cider, pumpkin carving and a family feast? Elena + I were eager to share some of our midwestern U.S. culture and Fall traditions with her friendly French guests. We took them out of the bustle of the city and into suburbia for a day at Goebbert’s Pumpkin Farm.
As we pulled up to Goebbert’s, I immediately realized that this trip to the pumpkin patch was going to be a little bit different. Our new friend Alice asked why the enormous pumpkin hoisted above the farm had a face? I responded, “it’s a Jack O’Lantern,” because duh that makes sense. She continued to ask, “what is a Jack O’Lantern?”
Elena and I both stop and realized that we had absolutely no idea what the origin of a Jack O’Lantern is. Nor why we carve pumpkins. It’s just something we’ve done year-after-year. It’s fun, it’s a tradition and we never thought to question it.
Interestingly, even Wikipedia doesn’t know the origin of pumpkin carving or the Jack O’Lantern. There are a few suggested possibilities – but nothing concrete.
So if we couldn’t explain this basic component of U.S. Fall tradition; how could we have possibly explained the rest of this?
Regardless of why we do it, we’re so glad we do. We had so much fun doing all the funky Midwestern Fall things. At one point Elena and I just put our arms out and flew like an airplane around the open green space. It was a beautiful day.
P.S. Did you know that they don’t eat corn in France? The only exposure to corn before was through American television or film. Can you imagine a life without roasted sweet corn dipped in butter and sprinkled with salt? Me neither. Think about all the great things like that you might be missing in other places and in other cultures. Just another reason to travel the world.