The Evolution of the Jack O’ Lantern

Carving jack-o-lanterns is one of the most celebratory ways to get into the Halloween spirit, but where did this tradition originate from?


The Irish Times

A primitive version of the now-classic jack o’ lantern.

Amelia McCrory, Columnist

As many festive families purchase pumpkins to line their front porch, some question their relationship to Halloween. To clarify, this tradition dates back hundreds of years to a small community in Ireland. Although this tradition has been carried on for many centuries, lots of alterations have been made to the original jack-o-lantern. 

Stingy Jack 

According to History, jack o’ lantern folklore was formed from an Irish myth starring a man named “Stingy Jack.” Apparently, this rebel made the devil pay for his drink by turning him into a coin. He then put the coin in his pocket near a silver cross, preventing the devil from turning into his previous form. Jack eventually freed the devil under the conditions that he would not bother Jack or claim his soul. The following year, Jack convinced the devil to climb a tree to fetch him a piece of fruit. While the devil was picking, Jack used the bark of a tree to create a cross, which prohibited the devil from bothering Jack for a decade. Once Jack had died, he was not only forbidden from heaven, but also hell. This caused him to be sent into the darkness with just one piece of coal to guide the way. Jack placed this sacred rock in a carved-out turnip, which has apparently been haunting the Earth ever since. 

Ireland’s Jack-o-lantern 

As time continued, the Irish referred to the pumpkin artwork as “jack of the lantern,” and eventually, “jack o’ lantern.” Ireland honored this tradition by carving scary faces into the spare turnips and potatoes, which would sit in window sills to prevent evil spirits from entering. When Irish immigrants entered American territory, they became fond of the pumpkin, eventually adapting the vegetable into their ritual. (Related: Irish peoples didn’t just invent the tradition of the jack o’ lantern, but Halloween as well.

Pumpkin Carving Today

As many Halloween seasons have passed, the level of craftsmanship has risen. Many families are now referring to more pleasing designs, rather than the original scary jack-o-lantern.

Even though this pumpkin tradition has been changed throughout the years, the same pleasure is received from carving one every October.