The History of the Jack-O’-Lantern


Pumpkin carving is an October staple in households across the United States. Whether their expressions are happy, sad, or scary, glowing jack-o’-lanterns peering at those brave enough to wander through October nights bring joy to the season. While everyone has seen a jack-o’-lantern, not everybody knows exactly where the tradition comes from. The answer lies across the Atlantic in the the 17th century, and rooted in the Celtic-Pagan religion.

The name jack-o’-lantern comes from an Irish folk tale about a man called “Stingy Jack”. The legend begins at a pub, where Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink. Stingy Jack, as you may have deduced, was not the most generous of souls, so when it came time to pay for the Devil’s drink Jack refused. Instead, he tricked the Devil into turning into a coin. The Devil expected to be used to cover the drinks, but Jack instead stuck him in his pocket next to a silver cross. Stymied by the cross, the Devil was eventually released after agreeing not to both Jack for a year. He also promised not to take Jack’s soul once he died.

A year passed, and Jack once again decided to play a trick on the Devil. Again he succeeded, this time convincing him to climb a tree to pick some fruit. While the Devil climbed around in the tree, Jack carved a cross into its back that prevented him from coming down. He struck the same deal with the Devil, only this time he was to be left alone for ten years.

These old legends rarely have a happy ending for the protagonist, and ole Stingy Jack is no exception. Shortly after he struck his final deal with the Devil, he died. Jack’s soul was rejected from heaven because he had lived a deplorable life, and instead turned to Hell. The Devil, however, promised not to take Jack’s soul. He rejected him as well, and sent Jack’s soul back to wander the earth with nothing but a warm coal to light his path. Jack stuck the coal into a hollowed out turnip and has been wandering the earth ever since. The Irish took to calling him “Jack of the Lantern”, which was then shortened to “Jack-o’-Lantern”.

The legend of Stingy Jack is just the start of Halloween’s fascinating history. In Ireland, where the tradition began, pumpkins don’t grow. Before immigrants began traveling to America, jack-o-lanterns were actually made from turnips and potatoes. People used them to scare away Jack and other malicious spirits. The tradition also made its way to down to England, where large beets were used. Once the traveled across the sea, these immigrants brought their old traditions with them. They found the pumpkin to be the perfect fruit for creating jack-o-=lanterns, and the tradition we know today was born.

And there you have it, the history of the jack-o’-lantern. Those aren’t the only cool Halloween facts though! Here are a few quick hitters for the road!

  • Lewisburg, Ohio, holds the world record for the largest Haunted House in the US. The “house” is actually a 3,564 foot long cave located in an underground mine.
  • About $3 billion os spent in the U.S. on Halloween costumes each year
  • The largest pumpkin in U.S. history was 2,261.5 pounds! The fruit was created as part of a father-son rivalry. Richard Wallace took the title from his son Ron, who grew a 2,230 pound fruit in 2015.

Enjoy the holiday and stay safe! 

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