Where to Set your Carved Pumpkin Asail

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The Vikings used to bury their dead by setting them aflame and casting them out to sea. On Sunday, October 28, 2012, New York City families can experience a bit of that tradition and pageantry for themselves. With pumpkins. Though no Vikings are involved (or harmed, for that matter) with the annual Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Sail at the Harlem Meer inside Central Park on 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues, it is the culminating gala of Central Park’s month-long holiday celebration (all of which are free to participate in, to boot!) And it does truly offer a unique sight: That of some fifty lit, intricately carved jack-o-lanterns drifting eerily in the twilight.

Getting in on the Pumpkin Action
Members of the community are welcome to contribute their creations to the Pumpkin Sail.  But, there are strict rules which, if not followed, will result in elimination:

– First of all, your pumpkin must weigh between five and ten pounds. Any more than that, and it risks sinking its floatation device.

– Pumpkins must be gutted (prepare for lots of ewwws) and carved.

– Any decorations must be made of natural, biodegradable materials.

– Do not add light bulbs, candles, or floats; a tea light and floating device will be provided when you drop off your jack-o’-lantern between 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm the day of the event at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.

Be advised that participation in the flotilla is first-come/first served, no reservations are available, and only the first fifty submitted pumpkins will be allowed to set sail. Any pumpkins above that number will be put out on display, instead. Your pumpkins will not be returned to you.

In the Meantime…
The pumpkins sail at twilight! Which, at the end of October, means roughly 6:00 pm or so. So what can you do while waiting for the festivities to start? Never fear, the Central Park Conservancy has got you covered. Starting at 4:00 pm, this year’s scheduled activities include a pumpkin carving exhibition by professionals (kids, don’t try this at home), edible arts and crafts like marshmallow ghosts with candy eyes, musical performances by saw players (something you have to see, well, actually hear, to believe), spooky (and funny) storytelling with lots of audience participation, and, right before the pumpkins push off, a costume parade lead by Frankenstein! So make sure you dress up for the occasion!

Watch & Learn
After the carving and the eating and the sawing is over, grab yourself a seat along the edge of the Harlem Meer (but, stay on the steps and rocks; avoid the plants) to watch NYC’s largest pumpkin flotilla – did you know there was even a competition for the title? Want a guaranteed best seat in the house? Join the Central Park Conservancy and flash your membership card when you drop off a pumpkin, to reserve a prime spot.

Warning: This celebration is contingent on weather. The Pumpkin Sail will be cancelled in case of rain. However, the show will go on if it’s merely cold or windy. As all of it takes place outside, make sure you dress accordingly. Even if that does mar the line of your Halloween costume somewhat. Nobody likes to be a bulked up fairy princess or Superman in a ski hat,  But, it beats getting sick and missing the official sugar frenzy three days later.

Other fun, free upcoming Halloween events sponsored by the Conservancy include:

A Clearing in the Forest on Sunday, October 7 from noon to 1:00 pm at the Peter Jay Sharp Children’s Glade, where kids ages four and up can learn about NYC’s real vampires – the bloodsucking animals who cohabitate with us on Manhattan island (insert your own Wall Street joke, here).

Plus, don’t miss Bats at Belvedere on Friday, October 26 from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm at Belvedere Castle. A nature walk where not only will you learn the history of these particular bloodsuckers, but you’ll even get a chance to meet a few face to face…live and beady-eyed!

Have you participated in this Halloween NYC tradition? Let us know in the comment section below!

— Alina Adams