The history of the Jack-o-Lantern

Photo of a Jack-O-Lantern

Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween? CC by MANSOUR DE TOTH/Wikimedia Commons

Jack-o-lanterns have been carved for centuries. Many of us remember carving them as far back as our very first Halloween, but do you know why we carve pumpkins? I always thought it was one of those odd Halloween traditions, but this year I set out to find the truth behind the tradition.

The common theme with pumpkin carving is that it came from the Irish people who would carve faces in turnips and potatoes to ward off evil spirits. They would place them in windows and by doors to frighten spirits away, which explains why we put them on our front porches. When the Irish immigrated to America, they discovered pumpkins were easier to carve and very abundant. This led to the modern tradition of pumpkin carving, but where did the need to drive away evil spirits with turnips come from?

You don’t know Jack

The fable of Jack started centuries ago. The story says that an Irishman nicknamed “Stingy Jack” invited the devil to have a drink with him.

Stingy Jack, living up to his name, didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for his drink. Jack placed the coin in his pocket, next to his other silver coins, preventing the devil from changing back to any other form. Eventually, Jack freed the devil, but again tricked him into climbing a tree and trapped him up there. Jack then made a deal with the devil. He told the devil he would let him down if he promised not to take Jack’s soul upon his death. The deal was made, and when Jack died, he wasn’t allowed into heaven and the Devil could not take his soul, so Jack was sent to roam the dark with only a coal to light his way. Jack carved a turnip and placed the coal into it, making a lantern, and so the Jack of the Lantern or Jack-o-Lantern was born. Ever since that day, people have carved and lit up turnips to keep Jack’s evil spirit away.

Do you believe in fairy tales?

This tale is probably as tall as they come, but in any event, we have kept the tradition of carving and lighting pumpkins alive and well. Carving pumpkins is a fun tradition for some, and it certainly doesn’t require a lot of money. There is no need to take out a payday loan with this tradition, so go buy yourself a cheap pumpkin and celebrate Halloween however you see fit.

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