Jack-o-Lanterns: A Short History

During fall, we use pumpkins for just about anything. We make pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup, roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, and we can’t forget the ever-popular pumpkin spice latte!

Well, it makes sense that we would eat pumpkin—it’s a delicious fruit! But, why in the world would someone carve a face into a pumpkin? Maybe if you’re on a deserted island, and you need a friend named Wilson! Well, we did some research to crack the case, and the history of this tradition is a lot weirder than you may have thought.

Pumpkin and broom for holiday Halloween on old wooden door backgHalloween is a holiday with a lot of history. It’s believed to originate from ancient Celtic celebrations of the end of fall harvest, and the beginning of winter, a dark time of year that was associated with death and the return of ghosts. To ward off bad spirits that ruined crops, people wore costumes and gathered around fires. Jack-o-lanterns were later used to ward off havoc-wreaking spirits, or one spirit in particular.

The practice of carving jack-o-lanterns originates from an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack.” Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a few drinks with him, but—true to his name—he didn’t want to pay for the drinks. So, he persuaded the Devil to turn himself into a coin that he could use as payment. Once the Devil agreed, Stingy Jack decided to keep the money, and put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross, preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form.

Eventually, Jack freed Satan, but only after he agreed to leave Jack alone, and that if Jack should die, he would not take Jack’s soul. Not too long after their agreement, Jack passed away. The Devil stayed true to his word, and Jack did not go to Hell. But, God would not allow such a disagreeable person into Heaven either. So, it’s told that Jack’s soul was sent off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. He put the coal into a turnip—it was probably too hot to hold!—and has been roaming the Earth ever since.

The Irish would refer to Jack as “Jack of the Lantern,” which later evolved into “Jack O’Lantern.” People began to make their own jack-o-lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, placing them near doors and windows to scare off Jack’s ghost. This tradition followed immigrants to America, and they found that pumpkins—a fruit native to America—made wonderful jack-o-lanterns!Woman helping kids to carve their pumpkin Halloween jack-o-lante

Since, the tradition has become a lighthearted and fun way to spend time with family, losing the superstition altogether. Now that you know the history behind jack-o-lanterns, don’t you want to keep the tradition alive? Go ward off some evil spirits!


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