Every year, ghost, goblins, ghouls, witches, princesses and super heroes go up to front doors decorated for Halloween in search of treats. Many of those fall themed decorations include carved pumpkins with funny faces and candle light coming through the eyes, nose and mouth. October 31 is not just Halloween, it is also “Carve a Pumpkin Day.” Have you ever wondered why the act of carving up a pumpkin has become a Halloween tradition? Let’s take a look at the history and story behind this Jack-o-Lantern tradition.
The practice of decorating pumpkins, aka jack-o-lanterns, comes from an Irish folktale. This tale is about a man named Stingy Jack, who had invited the Devil to have a drink with him and convinced the Devil to turn into a coin so he could pay for their drinks. Instead of paying of their drinks with the coin, Jack, placed the coin in his pocket with a silver cross. This prevented the Devil from turning back to his original form.
Years later, Jack released the Devil from his prison, under the condition he did not bother jack for the term of one year. The following hear, Jack tricked the Devil once again, by convincing him to climb a tree to pick some fruit. Once up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark, preventing the Devil from coming down the tree. The Devil was not allowed to come down from the tree until he agreed not to bother jack for ten more years.
Because of his actions, Jack was not allowed in Heaven or in Hell. He was sent off into the night only bearing a burning piece of coal to light the way. Jack placed that piece of burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming Earth ever since.
This is the story behind the tradition that began in Ireland and Scotland, where people make their own versions of Jack’s lantern. These lanterns are believed to ward off evil spirits and as the Halloween tradition goes, October 31 is the one night of the year when spirits can freely roam the Earth. That is why many put out their carved beets, turnips and potatoes on Halloween night.
Upon coming to America, Irish immigrants discovered the pumpkin, a fruit native to their new home in America and started using it to continue their traditions from back home.
Jack-o-Lanterns have come a long way since the original days when they were carved from turnips, potatoes and beets. There are many stories behind why we carve pumpkins, but this one is the most popular and most widely believed among those who celebrate Halloween.