A Brief History of the Jack-o’-Lantern

People have been carving vegetables into lanterns since the dawn of time. The Maori people used gourds for lights, over 700 years ago. It’s believed the making of jack-o’-lanterns began in Ireland in 1600s, when they used turnips and gourds to hollow out to use for lantern during Halloween in Ireland and Scotland, sometimes carving out grotesque faces to frighten people. 

 

The lanterns represented spirits and were used to ward off evil or lost spirits. Sometimes people put them on the windowsills to keep harmful spirits away from the home. Once Christianity took firm hold in the region and Halloween combined with the Christian observances of All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, jack-o’-lanterns were lit in remembrance of Christian souls in purgatory.

The term Jack-o’-Lantern began showing up in print in the early 1800s, when Irish newspapers began printing stories telling of carved gourd lanterns and information on local gourd carving competitions. But it wasn’t until 1866, that the first recorded association between a carved pumpkin and Halloween would show up in an edition of The Daily News in Kingston, Ontario.

turnip jol

Today’s jack-o’-lanterns have evolved into works of art.  No longer content with simple faces, pumpkin carving has become big business with the sale of tools and artistic guides to help amateurs and home haunters create their own elaborately designed pumpkins, to televised competitions and special appearances by professional carvers, who enjoy D-List celebrity status.

Will-o’-the-Wisp

Jack-o’-Lanterns were once associated with the term ‘will-o’-the-wisp’ or ‘ignis fatuus’, the Medieval Latin for “fool’s fire”. A will-o’-the-wisp was thought to be a ghostly light or orb seen by travelers during the night, particularly near bogs, swamps, or marshes. The phenomenon was said be supernatural, brought on by ghosts, fairies, or other elemental spirits.

330px-Will-o-the-wisp_and_snake_by_Hermann_Hendrich_1823
Will-o-the-wisp_and_snake_by_Hermann_Hendrich_1823

A tale behind the term refers to a wicked blacksmith who was turned away at the pearly gates by St. Peter. He was given a second chance to redeem himself but the blacksmith failed to change his evil ways and was then cursed to wander the earth for eternity. The Devil was impressed by the blacksmith’s antics and decided to give him a single burning coal to keep him warm, which he used to lure foolish travelers into the marshes instead.

The Story of Stingy Jack

In addition to the will-o’-the-wisp myth, no folklore associated with jack-o’-lanterns are quite as memorable as the story of Stingy Jack, a devilish man, so evil, the real Satan paid him a visit to see what all the hoopla was about. The witty Jack was a shrewd deceiver, a master manipulator and a nasty drunkard, who managed to trick Satan, not once but twice. The first time, he convinced the devil to go drinking with him. Afterward, being too stingy to pay, Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin so he can pay the bill. Once the Devil did so, Jack put the coin in his pocket along with a silver cross, trapping Satan until he agreed to spare Jack’s soul for ten years.  The Devil agree and off Jack went.

by surrounding the devil with crosses to trap him until he agreed to spare Jack’s soul. Once Jack finally died from drink, he was refused entrance into heaven for his lifetime of sin and denied entrance into hell per his previous agreement with Satan. Satan cast the doomed soul out to wander the world for eternity, with only a single ember, which Jack inserted into a hollowed turnip to light his way. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, and eventually, Jack-o’-Lantern.

stingy_jack_by_jovan_ukropina
stingy_jack_by_jovan_ukropina

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