Posted on Oct 22, 2012 in Events, Food & drink, Other stuff
Ever since I was a child, we carved pumpkins every October in celebration of Halloween. I am wondering how this tradition began, because there’s nothing else like a Jack O’ Lantern!
I have wondered this myself! We always had pumpkin carving parties when I was a child and back then it never occurred to me that it was a bit odd that we took a large piece of fruit, cut out its insides and carved weird faces into it. Once it did come to mind, I did some research on it – and the following is what I’ve found out. In order to get a better understanding, you must look at history.
Traditionally, at the end of October, the Celtic people had a harvest festival called Samhain. (This is also the modern Irish word for November.) This was when their year ended, and new beginnings were being celebrated. This holiday was not one with a religious basis, but was more of a mystical and superstitious event.
Part of the event included carving out the insides of things such as gourds, turnips and beets. This was done to welcome good spirits such as the souls of loved ones who had passed. But, as with all things, this tradition evolved and became one of a darker nature. In time, these things were carved out to be used as lanterns for scaring away evil spirits. They were lit up and placed outside the front and back doors of peoples’ homes to fend off any evil spirits that may try to enter and cause harm. (See some more interesting information on the Samhain Festival here.)
Once immigration to America began, the Irish immigrants found that the pumpkins we had here in America were perfect for their superstitious purposes. This is because their size and shape were ideal for carving and making lighted vessels.
The word jack-o-lantern stemmed from the Irish as well, who had a story about a fictional character by the name of Stingy Jack. The story says that Jack was a drunk who had a round of drinks with the devil. He asked the devil to change himself into cash to pay for their ale. The devil agreed to do this, and when he became a pile of coins, Stingy Jack picked up the devil in his coin form and put him in his pocket along with his silver cross. The cross prevented the devil from changing back, and he was trapped in Jack’s pocket. Jack agreed to release the devil if he would leave him in peace for one year.
The devil kept his word, and one year later returned for Jack. This time, Jack asked the Devil to climb a tree for him to get a piece of fruit — and oddly enough, the devil complied. Once in the tree top, Jack carved a cross at the base of the tree, once again trapping the devil. This time his terms were that the devil must leave him be for 10 more years. Once again, the devil agreed… but Jack died shortly after this last encounter. Having made deals with the devil, God would not take Jack.
But, the devil did do one thing for Stingy Jack: He sent him away in the black of night with only a hollowed-out turnip with a hot coal placed inside to light his way.
This is how the name “jack-o-lantern” came to be, and is now associated with pumpkins since the Irish settlers discovered its value. If you would like to read the full story of Stingy Jack, look here.)
Today, carving jack-o-lanterns has practically become an art form. There are shows and contests involving intricate pumpkin carvings. Children of all ages love to carve their pumpkins to put on the front porch, lit up bright for everyone to see.
Pumpkins are the biggest and most popular Halloween staple we have today and it is all thanks to Celtic superstition, Irish settlers and a stingy man named Jack.
If you would like to see some of the most amazing pumpkin carving art, then be sure to check out Ray Villafane’s work. This artist is so amazing, you will be asking yourself, “How in the world does he do that?!”
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