The History of the Jack-O-Lantern | History in a Nutshell Extra


Where did the Halloween tradition of carving faces into pumpkins and lighting them up come from?

This custom stems from the old European legend of "Stingy Jack" or "Jack of the Lantern". In the tale, Jack was a man so devious, he was banned from both Heaven and Hell. A man as awful as Jack could not be allowed into Heaven, however he could not enter Hell either since Jack tricked the Devil into being unable to claim his soul. As a result, Jack was doomed to roam the earth for the rest of eternity. In the story, the Devil took pity on Jack; scooped up an ember from Hell and gave it to Jack who placed it in a hollowed out turnip to light his way.

Originally, Europeans carved faces into hollowed out turnips or potatoes and placed candles in them on Halloween night. It was believed that these scary, illuminated faces in windows and doorsteps would frighten away Stingy Jack and other malevolent spirits. Irish and Scottish immigrants brought these old world customs with them to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Soon after their arrival, these immigrants discovered that the pumpkin- a fruit native to North America proved much easier to hollow out than turnips. The new world experienced infusion with the old, and this is why the Jack-O-Lantern remains arguably the most prominent symbol of the Halloween holiday!

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