Why the Pumpkin is Bad in Ukraine

  •  Why the Pumpkin is Bad in Ukraine
  •  Why the Pumpkin is Bad in Ukraine
Issue 127, October 2019.
Why the Pumpkin is Bad in Ukraine
 
As the end of October ‘creeps’ up on us, we start to think about traditional Halloween symbols like ghosts, witches, black cats and, of course, pumpkins (Harbuz in Ukrainian). While most foreigners see pumpkins as little more than a harmless Halloween decoration, pumpkins in Ukraine once had a very different meaning. 
 
There’s an old tradition in Ukraine that dates back to the medieval times. When a Ukrainian guy wanted to marry a girl, he didn’t buy her a ring and take her to a romantic place to propose. He found two special friends or relatives (Starosty or Svaty) and went over to her house and followed a specific custom. The Starosty – usually men – needed to have a solid sense of humour as they had to make a speech to the potential bride’s parents. After the speech, and a formal marriage request, the parents generally answered “We need to ask our daughter to see what she thinks”. What happened next was very important! The girl wouldn’t say a word – if she wanted to marry the man, she’d tie a ceremonial embroidered towel over the shoulder of each Starosty and a fine shawl on the hand of the young man. But if she didn’t want to marry the poor lad, the Starosty received nothing. And for the young man – a pumpkin!
 
Parents of very attractive daughters needed to have plenty of pumpkins, as pretty girls saw many offers of marriage. People often joked to her parents that they needed to grow enourmous pumpkin patches! This old tradition has by now mostly disappeared in Ukraine. Men generally purchase rings for marriage proposals, as is done in most of the rest of the world. But the phrase “to get a pumpkin” still remains very popular in Ukraine. It means that someone has declined you in a very important important business matter. In fact, if you hear that a Ukrainian “got a pumpkin from his girlfriend”, it means the same thing as in yesteryear – she doesn’t want to marry him.
 
It’s unclear how pumpkins came to symblise romantic rejection, but it’s possible that the vegetable’s unsightly appearance could be to blame. Many Ukrainian cookbooks also suggest that pumpkins are good for a man’s virility, so perhaps the pumpkin-wielding maidens were holding out for rugged, strapping young men.