Howdy y’all and welcome to the spooky season of Halloween!! This week we will be talking about the tradition of Jack-O-Lanterns!! Jack-O-Lanterns, for those who may not know, are pumpkins which have faces, logos, symbols or other pictures carved into them and then lit up inside to show the design come through. They are mostly seen during the Halloween period, where people decorate houses with them.
People have been carving gourds for hundreds of years all over the world. The gourd was domesticated around 10 000 years ago. Even the Maori people of New Zealand have been carving gourds for over 700 years. Funnily enough, the Maori word for gourd also describes a lamp. Traditionally, people would hollow out pumpkins and gourds and carve grotesque faces into them. A candle would be placed inside to let the light shine through the design.
People of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands have been carving pumpkins and turnips for thousands of years. The festival of Halloween falls on the important pagan festival of Samhain, which has been celebrated for over 10 500 years. The ancient Celtic believed that the veil between this world and the other side was removed allowing the dead to walk among the living. This was a celebration of the dead. Jack-O-Lanterns were used in various ways. They were placed on window sills and around the house to protect the home from spirits who wondered the earth, or imitate the spirits themselves. Some use Jack-O-Lanterns to protect the home from the undead; vampires in particular as the light from the candle would identify the vampire and if one knew the name of a vampire, the vampire couldn’t attack them. In an effort to christianise the pagan traditions, it is said that Jack-O-Lanterns represent the souls who are in purgatory.
The word Jack-O-Lantern originated in about 1660. It has similar origins to the term Will O’ The Wisps, where strange floating lights are seen over peat bogs. The full term would be “Jack Of The Lantern”. There are many legends around the Jack-O-Lantern. Some tell the story of a lazy blacksmith that trapped the Devil by tricking him into climbing a tree and then carving a cross on the trunk so he couldn’t get back down. Another tale suggests that a thief called Jack stole from villagers and conned the Devil into turning into a coin to trick the villagers with, but in turn trapped the devil in his wallet which had a cross on it. In both versions, Jack makes a deal with the devil to only let him go if he promises to never take Jack’s soul to hell. The devil agrees with this and claiming his freedom. After a life of sin when Jack dies, heaven cannot let him in however he cannot go to hell due to the deal he made with the devil. Therefore his soul is to wonder the earth for the rest of time and the light in the pumpkin represents his soul.
The tradition of carving pumpkins was bought to North America by Europeans however pumpkins were used as a symbol of the harvest season long before European immigration to the Americas. These days, the Jack-O-Lantern has become a symbol of halloween in North America, where people dress up as Jack-O-Lanterns, have pumpkin carving competitions. The carvings can be scary, cute or funny. The pumpkins are mostly carved with spoons, knives, special tools and there are even stencils for more complicated designs. So that’s a brief history of the origins of the Jack-O-Lantern. Kind of spooky and kind of creepy, I know I’ll definitely be lighting up one this Halloween to keep away the spirits!! Y’all come back now!!