The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

History of the Jack-o-LanternThe Jack-O-Lantern has been such a part of our life for what seems so long, it seems as American as apple pie. However, it was actually the Irish who brought what we know as the Jack-O-Lantern to America.

But, why name a carved squash after a person named Jack? Who was this Jack anyway? According to legend and lore, Jack was a legendary, stingy drunkard. He tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree to get him a juicy apple and then quickly cut the sign of the cross into the tree trunk, preventing the Devil from coming down. Jack made the Devil swear that he wouldn't come after his soul in any way. The Devil promised. However, this did not prevent Jack from dying - on All Hallow's Eve.  

When he arrived at the gates of heaven, he was turned away because he was a stingy, mean drunk. Desperate for a resting place, he had the nerve to go to the Devil. The Devil, true to his word, turned him away. "But where can I go?" pleaded Jack. "Back where you come from," spoke the Devil. The night was dark and the way was long, and the Devil tossed him a lighted coal from the fire of Hell. Jack, who was eating a turnip at the time, placed the coal inside and used it to light his way. Halloween Greetings

Since that day, he has traveled the world over with his Jack-O-Lantern in search of a place to rest. Irish children carved out turnips and potatoes to light the night on Halloween. However, when the Irish came to America in great numbers in the 1840s, they found that a pumpkin made an even better lantern, and so this "American" tradition was born.

There are several variations on the legend which we've included below:

  • The Devil mockingly tossing a coal from the fires of Hell at Jack, which Jack then places in the turnip.

  • Jack tricking/trapping the Devil a variety of ways, including placing a key or other item in the Devil’s pocket when the Devil is suspended in the air or plucking an apply from a tree. Some versions include a “wise and good man” or even God helping Jack prevail over the Devil.

  • Jack’s bargain with the Devil being different. In some translations, the deal is only a temporary bargain, but the Devil, embarrassed and vengeful, refuses Jack entry after Jack dies.

  • Jack is considered a greedy man and is not allowed into either Heaven or Hell, without anything having to do with the Devil.

Despite the colorful tales and legends, the term jack-o’-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the mid-17th century; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o-the-wisp.

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 Pumpkins with Attitude!

Carving PumpkinsJack-o-Lanterns are often carved with an expressive face. Scary or whimsical, depends on the carver. Just be creative! Sections of the pumpkin are cut out to make a design, often depicting a face: eyes, nose and mouth. A variety of tools may be used to carve and hollow out your pumpkin – from simple kitchen knives and spoons to specialized instruments. It is possible to create truly artistic designs these days with the help of design patterns sold in stores. After carving the pumpkin, a light source, usually a candle, is placed inside the now carved pumpkin. Placing the top back on its head, the light will illuminate the design from inside. It is best to carve some holes in the lid to allow the heat to escape.


Pumpkin carving partyTraditionally the carved pumpkin would be a face, often with a simple crooked toothed grin. But toward the end of the 20th century, artists began expressing themselves a bit more elaborately. Today, it is common to see portraits of famous people – politicians, celebrities or cartoon figures grace today’s jack-o-lanterns. Some artists do full three-dimensional sculptures and others work with the idea that the lighted pumpkin will project in what amounts to three shades.

From Pumpkin to Jack-o-Lantern: Carving Basics

The Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern....

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