Origins of Jack-o’ — The story behind its glowing grin, representations of dead
We are in the beautiful month of October, and as Halloween draws near it is time to scrounge for the biggest pumpkin you can find to take part in the annual tradition of pumpkin carving.
But how did carving jack-o’-lanterns out of pumpkins get started?
Halloween is linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which means “summers end.”
The celebration launched the Irish and Scottish people into a transition from summer to the preparations for winter.
On the eve of Samhain, it was believed the spirits or souls of the dead would revisit their homes because the veil between the realms of the living and the dead was the thinnest on that night.
The relatives of the spirits would carve jack-o’-lanterns out of turnips or gourds and place burning lumps of coal inside them. They were placed by the front door and in windows to guide the souls to their home.
The jack-o’-lanterns were also believed to help ward off malevolent spirits and protect the people from evil.
There is an old Irish legend of how jack-o’-lanterns came to be and how they got the famous name.
The myth says a man named “Stingy Jack” invited the devil to have a drink with him, but he didn’t want to pay for the drink so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin.
However, Jack decided to pocket the coin next to a silver cross, which prevented the devil from changing back to his original form.
Jack freed the devil when he promised not to bother Jack for a year or take Jack’s soul when he died.
One year later, Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree to pick fruit, but Jack carved a cross in the tree so the devil could not come down until he agreed to leave him alone for 10 more years.
Jack died soon after. St. Peter denied Jack’s entrance into heaven, and the devil remained true to his word and did not allow him into hell.
Instead, the devil gave Jack a piece of burning coal to light his way through the darkness between heaven and hell.
Jack placed the lump of coal in a turnip and has roamed the earth ever since.
The Irish called Jack’s spirit “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack O’Lantern,” and placed their own jack-o’-lanterns by their doorsteps to protect them from his ghost.
Pumpkins were unknown to the Europeans until a French explorer name Jacques Cartier reported he found large melons around the year of 1584.
Before then, it is believed Native Americans had been growing and using pumpkins for many centuries and called them “isquotersquash.”
When the Irish immigrated to America, they encountered the native pumpkin, which was much easier to carve and had many other uses.
The practice of carving jack-o’-lanterns didn’t take off in America until Halloween was more widely celebrated in the 19th century.
The jack-o’-lantern is the most popular modern symbol for Halloween.
Today, carving pumpkins is a fun activity to do with family and friends, and creating jack-o’-lanterns has also become an expressive art form during the fall season.
Emily Vaartstra can be reached at email@example.com
photos by steven devine | rawr
The tradition of Halloween pumpkin carving has been around for years and while there are many simple carvings found on people’s doorsteps. You can find very detailed depictions carved into pumpkins too.