The History of the Jack-o-Lantern

stingy-jackPumpkin carving is a popular part of modern America’s Halloween celebration. One of my favorite sights, as I walk around Brentwood and Westwood, is the Halloween decor, creepy displays, and Autumn finery, capped off by displays of intriguingly carved Jack-o-Lanterns. But despite my enjoyment of carving and seeing theses Autumn treats, I never  really knew why or when the jack o’lantern tradition began. What about you?  Read on to find out, then try your hand at some free elaborate pumpkin carving stencils.

People have been making jack o’lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself.

According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses carved into the bark on the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to bother him for 10 more years, and not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

history-jackoflanternIn Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o’lanterns.

So be sure to carve at least one really scary pumpkin face this year, to keep Stingy Jack from roaming up your path this Halloween night!

halloween_imageEverything You Ever Wanted To Know About Pumpkins But Were Afraid To Ask…

– Pumpkins are fruits. A pumpkin is a type of squash and is a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitacae), which also includes squash, cucumbers, gherkins, and melons.

– The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was in 2005 and weighed 2,020 pounds.

– Pumpkins have been grown in North America for five thousand years. They are indigenous to the western hemisphere.

– In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding “gros melons.” The name was translated into English as “pompions,” which has since evolved into the modern “pumpkin.”

– Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.

– The largest pumpkin ever grown was 1,689 pounds. It was grown by Joe Jutras of North Scituate, Rhode Island.

– Pumpkin seeds should be planted between the last week of May and the middle of June. They take between 90 and 120 days to grow and are picked in October when they are bright orange in color. Their seeds can be saved to grow new pumpkins the next year.

Ready to try your hand at carving your Halloween Pumpkin?  Get some unusual Pumpkin Stencils here, courtesy of Jay Ball and The History Channel.


The History Channel

Jay Ball’s Carving Studio

Source: The History Channel and Pumpkin Nook

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