Updated: Feb 3, 2022
There I was, grandma's house—it smelled of warm vanilla and autumn leaves. I was surrounded by family members, carving pumpkins in the garage. Creating our Jack O’lanterns was a Halloween activity we did every year. Spooky season is a time where all generations can have fun; a time to bond with family and friends. Many traditions come alive during the fall, October month; one being carving pumpkins—but where did Jack O’lanterns come from?
According to Kate Kelly, from America Comes Alive, “The tradition of carving faces into vegetables or fruits dates [back] to the Celts.” The Celtic stayed warm in the cold fall and winter months by using bonfires; when the flame was alive they believed that evil spirits would lurk around the bonfires. To help their fears disappear they decided to carve faces on large turnips and place lit candles in the vegetable—to scare off evil spirits. They especially carved these scary faces to ward off evil spirits on All Hallows Eve. All Hallows Eve, according to Holiday Insights, “It originated from the pagan holiday honoring the dead. On All Hallows Eve, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thin.” To protect themselves the Celts would carve faces in there food to feel safe from the evil spirits.
This carved vegetable got its name “Jack O’lantern” by the Irish. According to the staff of History.com, the Irish told a legend of a farmer named “Stingy Jack.” The legend is told that Jack tricked the devil multiple times to help him without any consequences. When the farmer died, God did not want such a soul to enter heaven, so he instead sent him to the devil. The devil also did not want such a trickster entering his realm, so instead sent his ghost to rome the earth with nothing but a carved turnip to light his way—for the rest of eternity. He was given the name “Jack of the Lantern,” which was then shortened to “Jack O’Lantern” over time. The Scottish and Irish still carve turnips and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack to this day.
As time goes on, many versions of this story were born. It is believed that this spooky tradition traveled to America in the 19th century by immigrants, according to Rachel Greenspan, from Time Magazine. There is not much information or a definite explanation of how this tradition traveled to the United states; however, it is believed that the youth took this tradition and made their own fun with the carved pumpkin. It is said that the children would carve the scary faces and light them with candles to run around and scare their neighborhood—almost like a prank.
Greenspan writes that this so called “carved pumpkin trick” became so popular that there were even how-to-articles printed in magazines—as early as 1842. The correspondence with this trick and Halloween became a big role in Halloween culture that it is still being used today. Today Jack O’Lanterns are seen sitting still on doorsteps, rather than being ran around by children. No matter where the Jack O’Lantern is, the history of the carved vegetable will always be the same. May the ghost of Stingy Jack live on.
Greenspan, Rachel E. “Jack-O'-Lantern History: Why Pumpkin Carving Is a Tradition.” Time, Time, 26 Oct. 2018. https://time.com/5419385/why-jack-o-lanterns-halloween/.
“Halloween Facts, Halloween Traditions.” Origin of Halloween Traditions, All Hallows Eve, Hallowmas, Holiday Insights, 2000. http://www.holidayinsights.com/halloween/facts.htm.
History.com Editors. “How Jack O'Lanterns Originated in Irish Myth.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 25 Oct. 2019. https://www.history.com/news/history-of-the-jack-o-lantern-irish-origins#section_1.