Jack o’ lanterns is an American Halloween tradition. Jack o’ lanterns can be seen everywhere leading to the actual Halloween day. It is not unusual to see jack o’ lanterns welcoming trick or treaters with glowing eyes and wide smiles. However, many do not know the history of the jack o’ lantern or how it came to be.
Jack o’ lanterns were brought by a group of Irish wives in the 1800s when they arrived in America. Since pumpkins did not grow in Ireland, the first jack o’ lanterns were carved from beets and potatoes.
The name “jack o’ lantern” comes from an Irish legend about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” Stingy Jack was a mischievous person who loved to play tricks on people around him. One day, Stingy Jack tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Stingy Jack then placed crosses around the base of the tree, preventing the Devil from climbing down. Stingy Jack told the Devil that he would let him down if once he died, the Devil would promise not to come for his soul. After the Devil complied with Jack’s request, Jack removed the crosses and the Devil came out of the tree.
Years later, when Stingy Jack passed away, he was told by St. Peter that he was a mean, cruel man who would not be allowed into heaven. The Devil, who kept his promise, did not come to retrieve Jack’s soul. Jack was not allowed to enter the underworld. With no place to go, Jack was trapped on Earth. So that he would have a source of light as he wandered the Earth, Jack carved a beet and placed an ember inside it to light his path. This was the first jack o’ lantern. As the legend goes, Stingy Jack still wanders the Earth today.
In modern days, jack o’ lanterns are used for Halloween decorations, and many families use the pumpkin carving experience as an activity for the family, especially those with young children. In Ireland and England, people still carve beets and potatoes. They also place a light inside to ward off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.
In the end, jack o’ lanterns are more than just pumpkins with faces. Jack o’lanterns are a part of the American culture brought by Irish immigrants in the 19th century.