Keene Pumpkin Festival

Since 1991, the Keene Pumpkin Festival has had a special place in my heart. I realize this site has been heavy with content from Keene. As I mentioned in my first posting, it is what I know best and I’m using my hometown as the launching point! We will be exploring more of New Hampshire as things progress!

I find myself stumbling a little as I consider how best to create this post. My direct involvement with the festival didn’t start until 2015. It has been a crazy and rewarding journey working with the nonprofit group, Let It Shine, to bring back some elements of the Keene Pumpkin Festival. We have succeeded in keeping the flame alive with a locally-focused, child-centered event. The event may be smaller, but the message is just as bright.

A Keene Pumpkin Festival Video

Enjoy the video and post below of the 2019 Keene Pumpkin Festival. Fall leaves plenty of things to do in “The Granite State” and Keene has always carved out its piece of the excitement during the harvest season!

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Pumpkin Festival 25 yrs. – The history

Are you interested in the history of the festival and learning more about it? If so, I would really encourage you to visit the website at Purchase the book “Pumpkin Festival-25 years” written by the original founder, Nancy Sporborg to read the entire story. The pictures and messages are inspirational and all proceeds go to help fund the Keene Pumpkin Festival.

The Let It Shine team has worked hard to help the community rise above challenges from the past. As a community, we have worked towards solutions and sparked a renewed appreciation for the heartbeat of the festival. “Kids, smiles, and pure pumpkins” has been our theme. Working with everyone associated with the festival, past, and present has been a real inspiration!



“Kids, smiles, and pure pumpkins!” has been our motto for the last three years. If you have ever been to Keene Pumpkin Festival in the past, you have seen and felt it! “Kids” come in all ages from two to ninety-two, but the past three years have been focused on putting smiles on the local school children’s faces.

This year, we had 21 participating schools keeping the magic alive in downtown Keene! Part of the history of the festival has been the PTA carving parties and parent, teacher, student activities around carving pumpkins. I carved pumpkins at Wheelock school with both of my two girls when they were young. It has been a great way to continue a tradition that allows the local school children to showcase their creativity to the entire community.

Communication with schools, the city, fundraising, and the day of planning, starts months before the event. It is an all-volunteer force that pulls together to make things happen.

The festival has always brought out the best in the community and an altruistic spirit. We are excited to add non-profit fundraising food offerings back into the mix this year. The festival has been a great source for fundraising for countless organizations over the years.

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From Jersey Barriers to Art

Another addition to the festival this year was decorating the jersey barriers that protect the festival. The suggestion came from the Keene Police Department during one of our protocol meetings. We reached out to Peter Poanessa who was instrumental in the Walldogs Magical History Tour for advice and connections for artists to paint them. Visit this post to learn more about that “Magical” event!

We found volunteers to prime the barriers and Peter helped find local artists to decorate them! The cold and lifeless concrete suddenly came to life and became an attraction unto themselves! Another reason to put the Keene Pumpkin Festival on your must-see list.

Pumpkin Delivery Day!

Tuesday on the week of the event, the tractor-trailers arrive from Newmont Farm to deliver the pumpkins. There is a section in Pumpkin Festival 25 yrs. that talks about the long-standing relationship between Newmont Farm and the festival. Some of the larger schools have them dropped off directly but the majority are distributed from Keene Middle School by volunteers with pickups, flatbeds, and trailers.

Pumpkin Delivery Day makes all the preparation and hard work worthwhile. The smiles on the kids’ faces keep us going until the event on Sunday.

During the week, the pumpkins get carved during after-school PTO parties, during art classes, and with any combination of parents, teachers, and students. They are then picked up by volunteers to be stored during the weekend for delivery to Central Square on Sunday morning. Let It Shine is a nonprofit and donates the pumpkins at no cost to the schools.

Once the pumpkins have been delivered, the team then works to finish the finer details of the festival. We had a carving party to celebrate and carve some personal messages in pumpkins. Pumpkin Festival-25 yrs has some amazing pictures of some of those messages over the years.

The day before the event, we gather the lumber and A-Frames that are used to display the jack-o-lantern masterpieces from each of the school children. Pumpkin heroes just seem to show up when you need them! Barney is amazing with his generosity, donating his time, energy, and equipment during the week of the event. Without Barney and his friends, it would be much more work to pull off the festival.

Event Day!

It’s event day and we can’t wait to get started! We have a full lineup of activities to create “Kids, smiles, and pure pumpkins!” By 5:00 am we have tents up and are working on the A-Frame setup. Each school has its own location in order to make it easy for kids and families to find their own pumpkins. A blurry picture for a blurry-eyed crew. Barney and Derwin get things prepped.

Once the A-Frames are up, the schools and volunteers start delivering pumpkins on schedule. 21 Schools and approximately 3600 pumpkins will be delivered before the opening ceremony and parade at 1:00! Even with the rain, volunteers come with a smile and a great attitude. It’s New Hampshire, we just work around the weather here.

The Keene High School Interact volunteers are amazing throughout setup that morning. School staff, local businesses, and volunteers all pitch in to move pumpkins into Central Square.

Credit: Shaundi Brown

Kids, smiles, and pure pumpkins!

We had games for the kids and adults to enjoy, local entertainment at the bandstand, food with the non-profits, a pumpkin labyrinth to navigate, a pumpkin riddle to solve, and of course thousands of artistic pumpkins carved by the local school children.

With everything set up, it is finally time to let the magic happen and focus on smiling faces for the day. The rain wouldn’t quit all day, but people came anyway and the ones that did all had a smile on their face and appreciation in their hearts. The Keene Pumpkin Festival faithful came out and expressed their appreciation and love for the event. Their smiles made it all worthwhile!

Credit: Shaundi Brown

Credit: Shaundi Brown

Credit: Shaundi Brown

Closing Ceremony and Cleanup

The festival wraps up at 7:00 pm with the final pumpkin count and a thank you to the sponsors read by children from the crowd.

We allow a half-hour for children to take their pumpkins home before starting the cleanup. Pig farmers have been contacted to gather the leftover pumpkins which is a win for the farmers, the pigs, and us!

The Keene State Rugby Team arrives to give us a hand with the cleanup. Along with them are additional KSC student volunteers from various fraternities and sororities. They are amazing at working together as a team, moving where needed, adjusting to the workload where needed. They exemplify the Keene State motto “Wisdom to make a difference”.

City staff is working behind the scenes to move barriers and get the streets ready to reopen. Just like that, Central Square is back to normal and another Keene Pumpkin Festival is in the books!

Visit my very first post on Downtown Keene or perhaps my Walldogs post to explore more of the beautiful city of Keene!

Do you have a favorite memory from the Keene Pumpkin Festival or a visit to Keene? Share it below in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

If you are looking for things to do in New Hampshire, add one of its many festivals and events to your bucket list!

New Hampshire Live Free and Explore!


1 Comment

  1. Jennifer

    What a great event! Such great work!


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