The History of the Jack-o’-Lantern – Why we Carve Pumpkins for Halloween

Photo Courtesy of William Warby

Photo Courtesy of William Warby


Scottsdale, AZ – October 28, 2014

Every October we see them on the front porches of houses all across the country; some are funny, some are scary and some are very creative, detailed designs. They flicker and glow bright orange on Halloween night, welcoming trick-or-treaters to our homes. They’re Jack-o’-Lanterns; pumpkins or gourds that we carved faces into. But did you ever wonder how this fun tradition ever began?


The carving of vegetables, such as turnips and using them as lanterns to light caves can be traced back as far as 700 years ago. Some believe that the tradition of carving Jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween can be traced back to Ireland and early Irish folklore. The Irish carved Jack-o’-Lanterns out of turnips, beets and potatoes.


The Stinging Jack Legend

There’s an old Irish legend that the Irish tell of an blacksmith named Stinging Jack. Jack asked the devil to have a drink with him at a pub. He told the devil to turn himself into a coin so Jack could pay for their drinks. When the devil turned himself into a coin, instead of Jack paying for the drinks, he put the coin in his pocket next to a cross. The devil was now powerless to change into any other form. A year later Jack again tricked the devil into climbing a tree to get Jack a piece of fruit, before the devil could climb down, Jack carved a cross in the tree, trapping the devil in the tree. Jack made the devil promise to leave him alone for 10 more years. Sometime later Jack died and God would not allow him into Heaven and the devil would not allow him in hell, because of all the tricks he had played on him. Instead the devil forced Jack to roam the nights with a single burning coal that would never go out. Jack placed the coal in a carved-out turnip and roams the earth eternally.


The Irish refer to Jack as “Jack of the Lantern.” The Irish began carving their own scary lanterns to scare away Stinging Jack. When Irish immigrants came to the U.S. they brought this tradition with them. They soon realized that a fruit, native to the U.S., called pumpkin made a better “Jack of the Lantern”

or Jack-o’-lantern, as they now refer to it.


So when you carve your Jack-o’-lanterns this Halloween, make sure they’re scary enough to ward off the ghost of Stinging Jack. Have a safe, fun Halloween from Angel MedFLight.


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