Over the years, it’s become increasingly difficult to scare anyone at Halloween. After all, thanks to the internet, kids have already seen pretty much every terrifying thing possible before they’ve reached double-digit ages. But this Halloween, you may spot something startlingly unusual on porches across the world: teal pumpkins. Are these the new spook on the block? Or is there a deeper meaning behind the oddly-colored jack-o’-lanterns?
Of course, there’s more than one way to decorate a pumpkin – carving may be the most iconic way of doing it, but it’s not the only method out there. Some creative types often paint faces on their gourds; others turn them into classy front-porch displays, brushing a single hue onto their pumpkins or accentuating them with bows and bells.
These little details only go to serve Americans’ widely known – and outwardly apparent – love for Halloween. People decorate their homes with more than just an array of pumpkins, too. You might see faux spider webs dangling from drainpipes or model zombies tearing through perfectly pruned lawns. Some even play sound effects to amp up the creepy factor of their homemade displays.
But not all Halloween decorations are meant to be spooky. Some of the kinder homeowners keep their décor kid-friendly because, well, little ones are out and about on Fright Night, too. Meanwhile, others set out decorations with a message behind them. Like the nice neighbors who try not to spook little trick-or-treaters, those who display teal gourds are doing so for a good reason.
Perhaps you’ve seen one of these bright-blue fruits on someone’s front porch and wondered why it was there and how it fitted into the traditional Halloween theme. Your neighbor’s probably not trying to mix things up, though. Chances are, they have a very specific reason for putting a teal pumpkin in the spotlight, and it’s essential for every trick-or-treater and their parents to know why.
Halloween is celebrated every year on October 31, and while it’s most popular in the U.S., it’s actually a holiday with roots in Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival that marked the end of summer. Itself based on Celtic pagan rituals, the festival involved people lighting bonfires to frighten off evil spirits.
As part of Samhain, people would also dress up in costume and then knock on their neighbors’ doors to be given food in exchange for delivering verses. Anyone who’s ever gone trick-or-treating will see the similarities in the customs. There are certainly parallels with kids today donning spooky outfits and asking for candy.
Pumpkins, meanwhile, eventually became a large part of the Gaelic celebrations. And that all came down to an Irish myth about a farmer named Jack. The legend went that Jack wanted booze, but had no money to buy it. So, he made a deal with the Devil, in which he implored Satan to turn into a coin.
There was a twist in the tale, though – Jack decided not to spend his devil coin. The story goes that instead, he placed it next to a cross, thus trapping him and preventing the Hell-dweller from transforming back into his original incarnation. Naturally, this upset the Devil, as did the many other tricks that the farmer played on him.
Of course, all things must come to an end and eventually Jack died. This meant he had to face his final judgment day – and the Devil once again. The horned character refused to allow the farmer into Hell. Instead, he armed him with a piece of coal and sent him on his way.
Jack had to be creative to make his way out safely. So, he grabbed a turnip and fashioned it into a lantern, popping the coal inside to light it up. And that’s how the farmer’s ghost got his nickname, which you might have heard before: people refer to him as “Jack of the Lantern,” or jack-o-lantern for short.
Because of the legend of Jack of the Lantern, the Irish – as well as the English and the Scots – began making all-natural lamps of their own. They etched into potatoes, beets and turnips, drawing scary faces on them. The carved root veggies ended up next to their doors, as people believed they’d scare off bad spirits.
This entire practice got an upgrade when Irish, Scots and English people started immigrating to the United States. They continued making their lanterns, but they no longer had to limit themselves to the tubers in their gardens. Instead, they discovered a new fruit to use: the pumpkin.
And that’s how pumpkins became a must-have front-porch feature on Halloween. Back then, they were seen as either representing or defending people against the souls of the dead. Today, we still carve them into jack-o’-lanterns, but it’s more for entertainment than for protection from another realm. And the fun factor has made it an annual tradition that has spread all over the world.
Recently, though, one of these Halloween customs has taken on a slightly different form. Indeed, the traditionally orange jack-o’-lanterns that sit outside people’s houses have begun turning teal. And for many people, the reason why is a mystery.
If you’ve never seen a teal pumpkin in the flesh, it’s not hard to imagine how strange it looks. After all, these are typically orange fruits, so teal is a completely off-the-wall color. And if you haven’t seen one yet, you may do soon – they’re becoming increasingly common in the U.S. and elsewhere.
So just what are the reasons for this weird new trend, then? It has less to do with folklore and fun than it does with function. For one thing, over the past few decades, we’ve come to a much better understanding of the many ailments that can afflict the human body.
And among those ailments are food allergies, the effects of which we now understand a lot better thanks to advancements in medical science. One in 13 children in the U.S. suffers from a food allergy of some kind. They can have anything from a lactose intolerance to a peanut allergy.
Having an allergic reaction to food looks different from person to person, too. Some may experience mild symptoms, such as tingling or itching in the mouth. Others break out in hives, or their lips and tongues balloon in size. Stomach issues can strike, too – diarrhea, nausea and vomiting included.
But some food allergies can trigger a much more serious reaction called anaphylaxis. It’s a life-threatening bodily response that might result in constricted airways, an increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing or a sudden plunge in blood pressure. Without proper treatment, a person in anaphylaxis can die.
Of course, this can create a particularly difficult situation for kids with such allergies at Halloween. They may well want to go trick-or-treating with their friends. But if they can’t eat the same candy as them, then they may end up feeling left out. And that’s where teal pumpkins come in.
Yes, if you see a teal pumpkin on someone’s porch this Halloween, you’ll know that it’s a safe house to trick-or-treat at for kids with food allergies. As a symbol of inclusivity, it’s certainly eye-catching. And it also signals that a particular house has plenty of non-food treats on offer for those poor kids who can’t eat certain things.
The Teal Pumpkin Project was created by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). It’s the world’s biggest charity for raising awareness of food allergies. The organization’s aim with the initiative, which it launched in 2014, is to promote “inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season.”
To that end, FARE has provided a list of ideas for non-food treats. They include stickers, stencils, glow sticks, finger puppets and bouncy balls. Indeed, it’s clear that there are plenty of ways to make sure that every kid is included at Halloween.
Teal is an eye-catching color, so it seems like a perfect choice for this particular campaign. After all, you automatically know that something’s different about a house with a teal pumpkin outside. And just in case passers-by have no clue what it means, FARE has also provided other resources to increase awareness.
As well as posters that can be printed off and put up in your window or outside your home, there are free materials available online for flyers, yard signs and even pumpkin stencils. So if you can’t get your hands on the real thing, there are still plenty of ways to show that you’re participating in the campaign.
Over the past few years, the Teal Pumpkin Project has become a phenomenon that’s spread all across the U.S. “It just makes the kids feel like they are a part of it,” Barbara Bazzell, a South Louisiana resident who’s taken part in the campaign twice, told TV station KPLC. “They’re kids, they like candy but they can’t always have that.”
And much like Halloween itself, the project has also transcended international borders, making its way to places such as the U.K. “We have painted a pumpkin and have non-food treats for anyone who cannot have them,” Hanna Boardman of Rochdale, England, told newspaper the Manchester Evening News. “We are happy to support it and hope to continue the tradition so that allergy sufferers can celebrate Halloween as well.”
Meanwhile, another local resident, 32-year-old Kirsty Bennett, had also placed a teal pumpkin outside her house. She’d done so in support of her son, who suffers from an allergy to cow’s milk. “To be fair, a lot of parents will also probably appreciate the alternative to sweets without the allergy element anyway,” she said.
There are plenty of ways to get your hands on a teal pumpkin. For instance, you can buy one straight from your nearest pharmacy or craft store, if they’re supporting the campaign. Alternatively, you can just paint a regular pumpkin teal. Or if you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty, simply print off one of the posters.
“This campaign provides a great opportunity for communities to show their support of kids with food allergies who typically cannot enjoy trick-or-treating in the same way that their friends do,” Lois A. Witkop, FARE’s chief advancement officer, told the Manchester Evening News. “As a result of the Teal Pumpkin Project, more Americans are recognizing that food allergies are very serious and have a major impact on a child’s quality of life.”
Of course, just because you have a teal pumpkin outside your house, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still give out candy. It just means that you have other options for the poor kids who can’t enjoy those sweet treats in the same way as their friends. So now, when you see a teal pumpkin on someone’s porch this Halloween, you’ll know exactly why.
And teal pumpkins aren’t the only inclusivity-centric measure to keep an eye out for this Halloween. In 2019 a mom named Alicia Plumer took to Facebook to share an idea she had to help her son on his trick-or-treating mission. Her post began, “If you see someone who appears to be an adult dressed up to trick-or-treat this year carrying this blue bucket, he’s our son!”
Plumer’s son, then-21-year-old BJ, had autism. And, while he “has the body of” an adult, his mother divulged that “he loves Halloween.” So, she hoped other parents would see his dark blue pumpkin, recognize that he had autism and allow him to trick-or-treat at their houses – even if he would otherwise be too old to ask for candy.
Plumer wrote, “These precious people are not ‘too big’ to trick-or-treat.” Instead, she hoped that her neighbors wouldn’t mind “shar[ing] a piece of candy” and boosting awareness for autism at the same time. Little did BJ’s mom know that her Facebook request would take care of the latter with or without the help of her neighbors.
More than 27,000 people shared Plumer’s original post with her blue bucket concept. Those who saw it left comments promising to keep their eyes peeled for the royal-hued pumpkins. One wrote, “I will be ready and waiting for BJ,” while another Facebook user praised the mom’s idea.
Indeed, Plumer’s son BJ wasn’t alone in struggling on Halloween. The National Autistic Society’s Head of Campaigns Tom Purser told the BBC in October 2019 that, in spite of the excitement of Halloween, it could be tough for autistic children and adults. He explained, “It can be really difficult for autistic people who struggle with unexpected changes or who have sensitivities to noise, touch and light.”
Still, making dark blue pumpkins a widely understood signal would help make Halloween easier and more fun for those with autism. Many adults and kids on the spectrum have trouble communicating or finessing their social interactions. By devising the subtle symbol, Plumer has given them the ideal way to handle both without saying a word.
So, prepare for Halloween with a teal pumpkin-ready set of treats for kids with food allergies. You should also practice patience with kids who might not interact as you’d expect when they knock on your door for treats. Those with autism will need more time to process information – even if the question is, which candy would you like?
As Purser put it, it’s our responsibility to include everyone on this spooky holiday. He said, “Autistic children and adults make up a large part of our community – around one in 100 people – and should be able to enjoy Halloween just like everyone else.” The same goes for kids with food allergies: they should be able to reach for treats without fear of getting sick. Popping your allergen-free wares into a teal pumpkin is a great way to make that happen.