Carving Turnips: A Halloween Craft Twist

Did you know that, before the pumpkins took over, Celtic folk in Ireland more commonly carved turnips, lighting them with candles to honor the dead? These days, it's a fun little departure to try with your kids to add a little extra light to your Halloween fun. Try this project from Kerrie Logan Hollihan's Elizabeth I: The People's Queen, reprinted with permission from the Chicago Review Press, Inc. Adult supervision required!


  • Turnips (the bigger, the better)
  • Pencil
  • Small, pointed knife with a serrated edge
  • Cutting board
  • Small fork
  • Spoon with a point or serrated edge (spoons for cutting stems out of tomatoes work perfectly)
  • Tea light candle
  • Matches


  1. When you first buy turnips, they can be hard as rocks. Let yours sit out in the open for several days until they soften a bit.
  2. Hold the turnip root tip up. This will be your jack-o'-lantern's lid. Use the pencil to trace a circle around the root tip. Make the circle big enough so you can scoop out the turnip's insides. With an adult's help, slice off the lid at the pencil line and set aside.
  3. Slice a thin piece off the other end of the turnip, so it will sit flat.
  4. Scoop out the turnip's insides. Start by poking holes in it to soften it up. Then use the fork or spoon to clean it out (note: this can take some time). Leave enough on the "walls" so the turnip will hold while you carve it.
  5. Hold the turnip in your hand. Use the pencil to trace eyes, nose, mouth – whatever you'd like. Then, pierce the turnip with your knife and gently "saw" out the features.
  6. Place the tea light inside. Find a dark spot and light the candle. Put the lid back on and place it in a safe place!


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