The Origin of the Jack-O’-Lantern

You've seen them on your neighbors' porches, but what originally began this Halloween tradition?

Carved+from+pumpkins%2C+these+jack-o%27-lanterns+are+lit+with+small+candles.+ under creative commons license

Carved from pumpkins, these jack-o'-lanterns are lit with small candles.

Jack-o’-lanterns, now common Halloween decorations today, date all the way back to the 1500s. Old Irish legends tell of a man, known as “Stingy Jack”, who trapped the Devil and in exchange for letting him loose, made Lucifer promise that he wouldn’t take his soul after death. However, when Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven by God due to his selfishness during life. After being rejected, Stingy Jack visited the Devil who turned him away as well (keeping his promise) and gave him a single burning coal, telling Jack to “find his own hell”.  Forced  into a perpetual state of limbo, castaway by both heaven and hell, Jack wanders the world without a resting place, keeping the burning coal in a hollowed out turnip.

Eventually, the legend evolved into a tradition as it spread throughout more of Europe and eventually the United States, via the Irish. Making lanterns out of vegetables became a popular Halloween trick, intended to scare others into believing they saw the burning coal of Stingy Jack. Nicknamed the jack- o’-lantern, reflecting the spooky lore behind it, the popularized tradition of carving a face only enhanced the scare factor and gradually became a widely accepted custom. Although vegetables such as turnips, potatoes and  beets were often used in the past to create jack-o’- lanterns, people discovered that the pumpkin was much larger and easier to carve. This resulted in the jack-o’-lantern that is largely seen today, an orange pumpkin with eyes, a nose, and a toothy, glowing grin.

And so, the jack-o’-lantern was born. Ever since, it has become a widespread decoration and tradition, marking the celebration Halloween and its haunting roots.

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