Why do we carve jack o' lanterns on Halloween?

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What do you think of when Halloween comes around? Wearing a silly costume? Eating lots of yummy candy? How about turning a pumpkin into a jack o' lantern?!

Carving a funny face into a pumpkin is one of the oldest traditions of Halloween in the United States, but where does this custom come from? Popular folklore traces the origin of the jack o' lantern to Ireland, where people would carve designs into turnips to retell the story of Stingy Jack (see below). The Irish brought this tradition with them during the nineteenth-century immigrations, but used the pumpkin (which was native to America) instead because it was easier to carve!  

In 1837 one of the first written references to the jack o' lantern was published in the Nathaniel Hawthorne story "The Great Carbuncle," and in 1866 a writer for the Ontario Daily News used it in reference to Halloween.

by   (whyzz writer)
  • Further information

    The Story of Stingy Jack
    Legend has it that, long ago, there lived a mean and greedy man named Jack who liked to steal and play tricks on everyone. One day, the Devil appeared before him and said it was time for him to collect Jack's soul. Instead of going with him, Jack tricked the Devil into climbing a tree to reach a piece of fruit, and then carved a cross into the trunk when the Devil wasn't looking! Since the Devil was not allowed to pass the cross he could not get down from the tree without Jack's help, something Jack wouldn't offer until the Devil promised that he would leave Jack's soul alone.

    When Jack died years later, he was told by God that he wasn't allowed into Heaven because he had been too mean and greedy when he was alive. Since the Devil kept his promise and would not take Jack's soul into Hell either, Jack was stuck in the darkness between the two. When he asked the Devil how he would be able to see, the Devil tossed Jack a burning ember that Jack kept safe in a hollowed out turnip (his "lantern") before beginning his journey to find a final resting place.

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    Did you know?
    Starting in 1993, Keene New Hampshire held the world record for the most lit jack o' lanterns in one place, reaching as many as 28,952 in 2003! In 2006, Boston came ahead with 30,128, a record which still stands today!

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