Jack-o'-lanterns

Three carved Jack-o'-lanterns. One looks like Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas.

Do you carve a pumpkin for Halloween? Have you ever wondered why we carve pumpkins? Or why do we put lights inside a carved piece of food? 

Most historians trace the story of the Jack-o'-lantern back to Irish folklore. In the story of Stingy Jack (which is too long to tell here), a man named Jack tricked the Devil several times. When Jack finally died, God would not let such a trickster into heaven and the Devil was so upset that he kept his promise to not claim Jack's soul. Jack was forced to roam the Earth. The Devil gave him a piece of coal to light his way and keep him warm. Jack carved a turnip to hold the coal.

Eventually the Irish began calling him Jack of the Lantern or Jack-o'-lantern. Irish families started carving turnips into grotesque shapes and lighting them in order to scare Jack and other evil spirits away on the night of Samhain on the Celtic calendar. Samhain happened to be the same night as Halloween in England. Eventually the tradition spread from Ireland to Scotland to England and then to the USA.

As Irish immigrants moved to the United States, they discovered that pumpkins were easier to carve and hollow out than turnips. This is why we have the tradition of carving pumpkins. 

A small pumpkin carved into a Jack-o'-lantern sits alongside a carved turnip reminiscent of the old Irish tradition.
Did You Know?
  • Samhain originally fell on November 1st. In the 8th century the Roman Catholic Church moved All Saints Day to November 1st. The traditions of Samhain moved to October 31st and became "All Hallow's Eve" or Halloween.
  • There is a Guinness World Record entry for the most pumpkins carved and lit in one place on one night.
  • Another origin for the Jack-o'-lantern can be found in the stories surrounding mysterious bog lights known as the Will-o'-the-wisp.
  • Americans spend an average of $600 million a year on pumpkins for carving at Halloween.
  • You can safely buy your pumpkin anytime in October for Halloween.
  • Do not carve your pumpkin more than a week before Halloween or it will start to rot.

Source URL: https://euclidlibrary.org/content/jack-o-lanterns