Turnip ghosts as lanterns carved by children in Germany as a traditional Halloween custom

26. October 2017 - Anika Semmer

How to Carve Turnip Ghosts as Halloween Lanterns | Tutorial




Turnip ghosts are the German version of the Halloween pumpkin. You can easily make the traditional lanterns yourself, just like the American Jack o’Lanterns!

Almost everyone associates Halloween with America. But many of the typical Halloween traditions actually come from Ireland! And in Germany, long before the triumph of the Halloween pumpkin, there were the turnip ghosts – an amazingly similar autumn custom that is still alive in some regions of Germany!

Halloween interests you? These are the best and most bizarre Halloween customs from around the world – and some of them are really worth trying out!

Our tip: Turnip ghosts are a real alternative to pumpkin lanterns and very easy to make yourself!

How to Make Your Own Turnip Ghost Lantern

What you need

  • A fresh fodder beet, beetroot, sugar beet
  • Spoon
  • Knife
  • Binding thread
  • Candle, tea light or childproof LED


Carving Turnip Ghosts

As with pumpkins, the fresher the turnip, the longer it will stay beautiful. When choosing a turnip, make sure you know what you want to carve into it. Unlike vegetable pumpkins, turnips are often individually shaped with bumps, humps and roots 😉

First, cut off the top with the cabbage about 3-4 cm thick – if you hollow it out too, you can put it on the lantern later as a head lid with hair.

Now take out the pulp with a spoon and hollow out the turnip evenly until the edge is only about 1 cm thick.

Now you can either carve the eyes, mouth and nose as a grimace in the traditional way or carve other artistic patterns into it. Also make sure that you don’t pierce the entire wall of the turnip head too often, otherwise the turnip ghost won’t be as stable!

Important! When you’ve finished, spray the turnip ghost with hairspray, this will seal it and stop it from moulding and shrinking so quickly! It’s also worth protecting it from moisture such as rain and placing it in a cool place – so definitely not on the radiator!

If you want to use the turnip ghost as a lantern to carry around, you can drill three holes in the lid and the hull and knot about 35 cm long strings – e.g. twine – to them and tie all three together at the end of a stick to carry the turnip ghost around as a lantern.

Turnip Ghosts – the Almost Forgotten German Custom

As with many customs, it is not certain when and where this autumn custom originated. In fact, in many regions of Germany – just like in Switzerland, Austria and Ireland – there is an autumn tradition of carving turnip ghosts as lanterns; long before the triumph of hollowed-out pumpkins from the USA!

From 1918 at the latest, however, this custom was widespread in Germany. After the First World War, the time between All Saints’ Day and Christmas was hard for day labourers in Germany. After harvest time, there was hardly any work – and families were plagued by hunger. So their children stole turnips from the fields, hollowed them out and carved faces into them. The flesh made a nourishing soup. They put a candle inside and went from house to house with their turnip ghosts, begging for something to eat with sayings and short songs.

In the period of economic recovery after the Second World War, the custom of the turnip ghosts changed. The children went from door to door with their lovingly carved turnip faces for fun and recited their saying or poem or they placed their turnip ghost lanterns next to the front door, in the window or in the neighbour’s garden. Unlike in the USA, there is never a threat of a prank, but at most a request for something to snack on, and the children do not dress up either.
Then hardly any farmers grew turnips any more – and the custom of the turnip ghosts almost died out. Until some villages remembered it, organised turnip ghost parades and brought the custom back to life,

Turnip Ghosts Are Celebrated in Germany

In Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in the Taunus and Westerwald, for example, children carry their Riabagoaschter or Gloiniche Deuwel from house to house and recite a saying.

In Schramberg, for example, they sing and ask for some sweets and in Upper Lusatia flenntippeln the children, as they say there. To do this, they carve scary faces into their turnips, light them up with candles, put them in the gardens of relatives and neighbours, ring the bell and hide. As a “reward” they get sweets when they are discovered.

In Saarland, the turnip ghost – the Rummmelbooze – is wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in the window or next to the front door. And in East Frisia, the turnip ghosts are used as lanterns – the Kipkapköögels – for the St. Martin’s procession.

At Abenteuer Freundschaft you will find many more Halloween ideas and suggestions for autumn activities! From Halloween costume ideas, Halloween party ideas for adults to the best Halloween games for kids, teens and adults! The Leisure Ideas portal has gift ideas and tips for activities with friends, family and couples.

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