The Origins of Jack-o-Lanterns

By: FUN Monster

Jack o' lanterns bring to mind images of Halloween and grinning pumpkins but original jack o' lanterns were quite scary. Original jack o' lanterns were carved from beets or turnips and were meant to keep unwanted visitors away. In addition to jack o' lanterns in Irish folklore, the history of carved pumpkins also originates from the carving of gourds. Hundreds of years ago, the Maori people would carve gourds and use them as lanterns.

Jack O' Lanterns in Irish Folklore

According to Irish folklore, there was a man sentenced to roam the earth for the rest of eternity. This man was called Jack O' Lantern, and he was thought to be a ghostly figure that walked around with coal burning inside of a carved turnip to light the way. The story goes that a man named Stingy Jack decided to invite the devil to have a drink and then tricked him into shape shifting into a coin to pay with. When the devil agreed, Jack decided that he wanted the coin for different reasons and kept it in his pocket next to a silver cross to keep the coin from returning to its original form; the devil.

Eventually, Jack decided to free the devil after he agreed to leave him alone for one year. The devil also agreed not to take Jack's soul when he passed away. The year following, Jack again tricked the devil when he convinced him to climb a tree to get fruit. While the devil was in the tree, Jack decided to carve a cross into the tree trunk and would not let the devil down until he agreed to leave him alone for ten more years. When Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven and the devil did not want him in hell; therefore he was sent into the eternal night, with just his carved turnip to light the way. Legend says that he has been wandering the earth ever since, and after being referred to as Jack of the lantern, eventually his name became Jack o' lantern. Based on this legend, people in Scotland and Ireland make their own lanterns to scare away Jack and any other evil spirits.

Eventually, the carving became a Halloween tradition and the lanterns were used as guides for those dressed in costumes to celebrate Samhain. Samhain is a traditional Gaelic festival that marks the beginning of winter and end of the harvest season.

History of Jack O' Lanterns in America

When the Irish began to emigrate to America, they brought their traditions with them, including the carving of lanterns. They found that pumpkins, which are native to America, were good for carving. Jack o' lanterns carved from pumpkins became an important part of Halloween and continue to be popular today.

While it is widely believed that the idea of Jack o' lanterns came from Irish customs and folklore, there is not real evidence to prove this story. In current times, pumpkin carving has become something of an art. People use various tools to carve very elaborate designs into pumpkins which are then lit up and displayed.

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