First and foremost, use your common sense and I am not talking about the writings of Thomas Paine. Carve your pumpkin in an area that casts few shadows, for the dark is for carvers not. Wash and dry pumpkin and utensils before starting and assure the pumpkin that it only hurts for a little while and that all will be well very soon.
Remember that bigger is nowhere near better. Do not use long sharp knives as they often stick in the thicker parts of the pumpkin and require some force to dislodge, often cutting hands and other meaningful body parts. (Save the long sharp knives for cinematic psychopaths, Michael Meyers and Norman Bates. Theirs must be rusty with all those blood-stains by now anyway.)
Invest in a carving kit because pumpkin carving knives are designed specifically for that purpose, and as such are much safer than some others. Always remember to cut away from yourself in small, controlled strokes. Eliminate all thoughts of ineffectual high-school shop classes and carpentry projects that may or may not have failed in the past.
Leave the carving to adults who sometimes feel like children rather than the other way around. Let children help by sketching the pumpkins design and cleaning up the pulp and seeds after the "dastardly deed" is done. Pick simple designs with few curves and cuts for younger tots. Always keep children at a safe distance while carving (unless, of course, you are considering them as part of the mix).
Keep your free hand away from the direction of the knife. Use slicing motions and never force the knife. (Tell it in no uncertain terms to behave itself!)
If you do cut yourself, for Gods sake, dont just stand there and watch the blood drip! Apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth, after gently washing the wound with soap and water. If the bleeding doesnt stop after 15 minutes or if you experience a change in sensation or color, its time (daylight savings and other) for a visit to the local emergency room. Dont be shy. Thats why they are there.
Choose lighter colored pumpkins as they are softer and easier to carve. They dont last as long as their prettier, darker brothers and sisters, but we cant have everything, can we?
Pick a pumpkin with a nice size stem and a carvable face. Keep it in a cool place or outside until you are ready to carve it. Dont buy it too far away from Halloween as it may be ready to say goodbye to the world by the time you are ready to carve it and make it say hello to the people.
Cut open the top of the pumpkin and clean out the seeds referred to by those in the know as "pumpkin brains." Remember to scrape the inside wall up to about an inch thick. This will make carving a lot easier. You can use an ice cream scoop to clean out the pumpkin rather than bending every kitchen spoon you have in the drawer. Set the seeds aside for use as snacks.
Slow is the operative word when cutting. There are no short cuts and a careless mistake can completely ruin the effect you are trying so hard to create (not to mention sending you on an unplanned trip to the emergency room). The pumpkin will never forgive you if you ruin its face, as gourds are well known to carry grudges that can last a lifetime. You will have to get rid of it immediately, pick yourself up, dust yourself, buy a new pumpkin and start all over again!
Make sure to pick a design that is properly sized for your pumpkin. Enlarge or shrink it on a copier if need be. Transfer the design to the pumpkin by tracing with a small knife, a nail, a marker or a pencil.
Be very careful if you decide to use candles for your jack-o-lantern and never leave it unattended. Tea lights work well but for safetys sake, for indoor use, stick with battery-operated lights.
For a unique look, add a little glow paint or better, fake blood. Consider also inserting a bowl inside the carved pumpkin and adding dry ice and warm water to create a "spooky" effect. (Be careful though. Those ghosts do linger waiting for that special moment to "arrive." You dont want to make them too welcome.)
Make your pumpkin last by applying a light coat of petroleum jelly on the cuts. This serves to seal the wound. After carving, place the pumpkin in a cool dark place. (Or offer sunglasses. Be considerate.) It will spoil quickly if left at room temperature and will also attract fruit flies with no particular place to go.
Although this procedure is not recommended and probably will not work for unpleasant relatives and nasty neighbors, you can revive a shriveled pumpkin by soaking it in a bucket of water.
These procedures will help you enjoy your jack-o-lantern and make you, if not the envy (for it is green), then at least the orange equivalent to your neighbors who dont know how to carve a pumpkin. Try it this year if you havent before. The process will enhance your holiday and who knows what spirits might have lurked in your doorway had not the jack-o-lantern directed them otherwise?
The pumpkin shadow, thats who!
Did you know . . .
For more holiday fun, see these related articles:
Halloween: Ghosts, Goblins and Lore with Gore
The Pumpkin: Gourd of Gourds and King of All Things Halloween
The Truth Unmasked: The Story Behind The Halloween Mask
Lick Or Treat: Costumes For the Discerning Canine and Feline