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Lighting Your Jack-o'-Lantern

10/08/2008

Most of us will instinctively reach for candles this Halloween season when it comes time to light our jack-o'-lanterns, but there are many options available these days.

Candles

Candles

One of the most traditional methods of lighting a jack-o'-lantern, and probably the one everyone is most familiar with, is by using candles. Candles are of course available everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. If you buy on sale throughout the year they can be extremely cheap. The last time I purchased tea candles at Ikea I paid 99 cents for a bag of 250.

I prefer tea candles over votives because they sit very low in the pumpkin, which allows you to enjoy the glow without seeing the flame with most carvings. Perhaps my favorite reason for using candles in my indoor jack-o'-lanterns is the wonderful aroma given off when the heat from the candles starts to lightly toast the pumpkin. A true aphrodisiac to a Halloweenie like myself.

Candles do have their drawbacks, the open flame being the most obvious. This means they are unsuitable for many types of artificial pumpkins and you'll need to keep flammable material away from them. Candles are prone to being blown out by the wind and need to be replaced every four to six hours. Which can be a hassle if you plan on having your display up for longer than a single night.

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Battery Operated Tea Lights

Battery Operated Tea Lights

Battery Operated Tea Lights

Battery operated tea lights are marketed as a direct replacement for candles. Every craft store carries them and an increasing number of drug stores and party stores as well. I was always a bit skeptical. They certainly don't look like real candles to me and they don't put out much light.

However, I know several people who love them so I picked up a six pack to give them a try. Once in a pumpkin they do have a pleasant flickering reminiscent of candles. To get the amount of light I wanted from my jack-o'-lantern I had to use all six of them which is was a little disappointing but considering the price for six was about the same as the pumpkin specific lights below it seems reasonable.

Ultimate Strobe Light

Ultimate Strobe Light by Pumpkin Masters

We've been using the Ultimate Strobe Light from Pumpkin Masters for a few years now for some of our outdoor pumpkins and we like it very much. Its five clear lights produce a flickering candle-like effect that is very attractive and bright. It runs on two C size batteries, which are thankfully included.

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Amazing Artificial Candle Pumpkin Light

Amazing Artificial Candle Pumpkin Light

The Amazing Artificial Candle Pumpkin Light from Spirit Halloween Superstores uses three yellow LEDs and three AAA size batteries (not included) to produce an effect similar to Pumpkin Masters' Ultimate Strobe Light. Overall, the effect is nice but the yellow LEDs are not as bright as the Ultimate Strobe Light's clear incandescent bulbs and create a more dull appearance. Unlike the Ultimate Strobe Light, this light can be run on AC power with the use of a 4.5V adapter with an M or K connector (not included), which is nice if you are using it in an artificial pumpkin for extended periods of time.

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Amazing Rainbow Pumpkin Light

Amazing Rainbow Pumpkin Light

Also from Spirit comes the Amazing Rainbow Pumpkin Light. While the first pumpkin light was meant to simulate a candle, this one produces a range of colors as a steady or flashing light. It also uses three LEDs - one red, one green, one blue - and can also be run on AC power for extended display.

Also like the Amazing Artificial Candle Pumpkin Light, for the best results you'll need to display your pumpkin in a dark location. Typical room lighting is enough to wash out much of the color.

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Pumpkin Lite

Pumpkin Lite by Funkins

Pumpkin Lite by Funkins

The Pumpkin Lite by Funkins is sold along with their Funkins artificial pumpkins but there's no reason you couldn't use this in a real pumpkin.

On the plus side this is a very bright steady light that is easy to see regardless of room or outdoor lighting conditions. Since it's AC powered there's no risk of the batteries running out, and being electric it is perfect for artificial pumpkins.

However, this isn't the perfect light for everyone. The three main drawbacks of this light are the relatively tall height of the light when sitting in the pumpkin, the extremely short cord, and, well, the cord itself.

With most carvings you'll see the exposed bulb, which isn't a very attractive look. If you prefer carving designs that are chiseled or otherwise not cut completely through then this is an excellent option as the bright light will shine through the remaining pumpkin flesh exceptionally well.

Using a corded light means you'll have to either cut a hole in the back of your pumpkin or cut the bottom off your pumpkin, something you can see I didn't do in the second photo, to prevent seeing the cord. You'll also have to plan to display your pumpkin near an electrical outlet or use an extension cord since the cord is barely ~2.5 ft. long.

DIY Light Strands

If you carve a lot of pumpkins or you have a large display of artificial pumpkins you may want to consider making or buying a strand of lights. Outdoor-rated lamp sockets, wire, and plugs can be purchased at all the major hardware stores. This option, while more work and still suffering some of the same limitations as the Pumpkin Lite, will allow you to create exactly the display you want and can be used with real or artificial pumpkins.

Glow Sticks

Glow Sticks

Glow Sticks

There are many manufacturers of glow sticks and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They don't reproduce the flickering light provided by candles, don't last very long, and most do not provide much light.

The second photo uses four blue glow sticks, which together are more expensive than any one of the lights above. The effect is imperceptible in normal room lighting and only provides a dim blue glow in a completely dark room.

Green and yellow glow sticks are brighter but still have the short life span typical of all glow sticks. Unless you get an extremely good deal I would only use glow sticks as a method of last resort.

Chemicals

The least traditional but the most fun if you happen to be a raging pyromaniac is the use of various chemicals to create spectacular fire effects in your jack-o'-lantern.

Gasoline has always been a popular and extremely dangerous choice. For those with nerves of steel and access to large quantities of liquid oxygen, a short lived but brilliant effect can be had by pouring a small amount into your carved pumpkin and lighting with a match on a very long pole. It should go without saying, but don't try either of those inside or without the proper precautions, or better yet, not at all.

A slightly less dangerous and more manageable effect can be had with alcohol and boric acid. The combination will produce a very interesting green flame effect that will leave your guests oohing and ahhing. The downside is the same as for the above, the effect is short lived, dangerous, and destroys your jack-o'-lantern in the process. It also has the added benefit if you compost it, it will make nothing grow in the soil for many years to come.

If you try any of these, do it outside, clear the area of anything flammable, have fire extinguishers at the ready, and don't blame us when you burn down your house, yourself, or your friends and family.

Conclusions

So while we still like candles best for real pumpkins there are some electric options that work well in both real and artificial pumpkins. The Ultimate Strobe Light by Pumpkin Masters is our second choice to candles when using real pumpkins and our #1 choice for artificial pumpkins.

If you have a lot of pumpkins and don't mind carving high on the pumpkin and cutting a hole in the bottom as opposed to the top then making your own strand of lights is the way to go. If electricity scares you, consider picking up a string of C7 or C9 clear outdoor Christmas lights.

 
   

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