Pumpkins are a part of the gourd family. Because of this, they have hard exterior shells with vertical seams, or lines, that protect the soft inner flesh of the fruit.
Pumpkins are a unique fruit in that they grow on six of the seven continents in the world. The only place they cannot grow is in Antarctica. Originally, pumpkins came from North America, where they were harvested and eaten for thousands of years by indigenous peoples. After the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the pumpkin began to spread to other continents. In fact, Columbus took pumpkin seeds back to Europe with him after his first voyage to the Americas.
Today, pumpkins are not only popular to eat, but also are used as decorations. The majority of pumpkin sales in the United States occur in October, and most are used for jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween. The jack-o'-lantern tradition actually started in Ireland, though it is more popular in the United States than anywhere else today. Originally, placing a burning coal or candle into a turnip or pumpkin was used as a way to celebrate the fall harvest known as Samhain in Ireland and to protect a home's occupants from malevolent spirits that were able to interact with the living during Samhain.