The origin of carving pumpkins is uncertain; however, carving vegetables were common practice in many parts of the world as far back as 10,000 years ago. Gourds were commonly carved with grotesque faces on them to represent spirits or goblins and used as lanterns during All Hallows’ Eve festivities. So where does Jack fit in?
According to Irish lore, Jack was a thief and all around bad person. After robbing a Christian town, he ran into the Devil who wanted to take his soul. Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin which he’d give to the Christians to pay for the stolen goods exclaiming that when the Devil disappeared, the Christians would fight amongst themselves about who stole the coin. The Devil agreed to this and when Jack put the coin/Devil in his pocket, he put it next to a (stolen) cross which stripped him of all his powers. Jack only let the Devil go when he promised to never take his soul.
When Jack died, he couldn’t be let in to heaven because of his sinful ways on Earth. But the Devil couldn’t take him either because he promised not to take his soul. So Jack had nowhere to go. When Jack asked the Devil how he would see where to go as he roamed the Earth, the Devil mockingly tossed him some flames of hell that would never burn out. Jack carved out one of his turnips (his favorite food) and put the flames inside the turnip and used it to help look for a resting place. Jack became “Jack of the Lantern” which eventually became “Jack-o’-lantern.”
When the Irish arrived in the U.S., they discovered how easy pumpkins could be grown and used, and that they were readily available in the fall quickly making them the vegetable of choice to carve for Halloween festivities.
So when you’re carving out your pumpkin and putting it out on your front step, keep Jack in mind when you light the candle. He just might choose your house to rest.
‘Till next time!