Exploring the enchanting Tales of Jack-O-Lanterns and Halloween Carving Traditions
By Emma Marshall, Staff Writer
When the sun goes down in October, Calgary lights up with a haunting jack-o-lantern display, but the Halloween spirit is not found in the pumpkins, but rather in those who carve them.
Three years ago, Lantern Events Inc. and Pumpkins After Dark Ltd. collaborated to host the first Pumpkins After Dark. With these production companies focused on supporting local businesses, boosting the economy, and having a positive impact on the community, it quickly became a must-see Halloween event.
In 2020, the management team at Pumpkins After Dark released a Facebook post that called all community members who had an interest in Halloween and pumpkin carving for potential hire. For Mike Innis, applying for the position was a no-brainer.
Innis, alongside the other artists who got hired, Kelly Schaffner, Carlos Roche, and Julian Lee, have worked every year together at Pumpkins After Dark. The four of them quickly became a team and they plan on returning as the live carvers at this event for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a really positive experience and it’s a great community. It’s nice to see other people get as excited about something I am enthusiastic about,” said Schaffner. Obviously, they’re paying me to do it, but it doesn’t feel like a job. It just feels like a lot of fun.”
While it only comes around once a year, this exhibit takes 12 months to prepare. Innis explained that the design, carving, and set-up of the walkthrough display happens throughout the year by a team of skilled professionals.
“I keep seeing it evolve, there’s more and more excitement about it,” said Innis. “We look forward to seeing how it grows and to being a part of that Calgary October tradition.”
Their job is not to create the walk-through displays, but rather to carve intricate designs on pumpkins and interact with patrons of the event. This includes explaining their process, the tools they are using, and even the lore behind jack-o-lanterns.
“Stingy Jack is an old Irish story of a man who was cheap,” explained Innis. “The devil gave him a hollowed-out turnip with coal to light his way through the darkness, so that is why we make jack-o-lanterns. It’s to ward off Jack and guide those other lost souls.”
While Schaffner and Innis pursue carving mostly as a hobby, Roche and Lee have careers in the arts. However, their backgrounds do not matter when October hits and they can come together to slice, chisel, and light up pumpkins.
“Nothing’s off limits when I’m carving,” said Schaffner. “The lighting is often what makes it really magical. It takes it from just being a regular piece of art to something else.”
Over the span of the month, each of the carvers will finish about 50 pumpkins which are then put on display at the event.