Pumpkin Carving: History of the Jack O’Lantern

Jack O’Lanterns

Carving pumpkins is a classic Halloween tradition but it’s actually a fairly recent addition to the celebration. People have been making Halloween lanterns out of vegetables for centuries – the original jack-o’lanterns were carved from turnips, potatoes or beets.


Stingy Jack

The origins of the story lie in an Irish myth about a man called ‘Stingy Jack’. The story goes that Stingy Jack invited the Devil for a drink, but didn’t want to pay for it. Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that he could use to buy their drinks. He decided to keep the coin and put it in his pocket next to a silver cross that stopped the Devil from regaining his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, on condition that he didn’t bother Jack for one year and that, if Jack should die, he wouldn’t claim his soul.

The following year, Jack tricked the Devil into climbing a tree to pick fruit. While he was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the bark so that the Devil wasn’t able to climb down. He stayed there until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years.

Jack died soon after and, so the legend goes, God wouldn’t allow Jack into heaven. The Devil, upset by Jack’s tricks, kept his promise not to claim Jack’s soul and wouldn’t let him into hell. He gave Jack a burning coal to light the way then sent him off into the night. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has continued to roam the earth ever since. The ghostly figure was originally referred to as ‘Jack of the Lantern’, now shortened to ‘Jack O’Lantern’.



People began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them at windows or doors to frighten away evil spirits. European immigrants took the tradition to America but native pumpkins were used to make lanterns instead.


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