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Thus, an unknown man carrying a lantern was sometimes called "Jack with the lantern" or "Jack of the lantern. We know where 'jack-o'-lantern' comes from. What's less certain is how the name came to be applied to a hollowed-out pumpkin. At the same time, jack-o'-lantern was applied to another kind of light: It's easy to grasp how people might have associated the natural phenomenon to flickering distant lanterns held by Jack ; however, the connection of jack-o'-lantern to a carved, lit pumpkin is not as clear.

One theory begins by associating the illumination of a hollowed-out pumpkin with a Celtic pagan practice in which turnips or other root vegetables were hollowed out, carved with grotesque faces, and then illuminated by coal, wooden embers, or candles as a way to ward off evil spirits. It is likely that immigrants brought this custom to America and, finding turnips scarce, used native pumpkins instead.

However, that only explains the carving and illuminating of pumpkins. It does not shed light on how the term jack-o'-lantern began to be applied to the pumpkin. The argument might be made that immigrants drew a connection between the glow of the pumpkins to the ignis fatuus back home, but why wouldn't a similar connection have been made to the familiar hollowed-out, lit turnips earlier?

Another theory is that the use of jack-o'-lantern for a pumpkin lantern originated in a story from Irish folklore. There are many versions of the story, but they all tend to center on a man named Jack, the devil, and a lit turnip with which the soul of Jack aimlessly wanders the Earth—but, again, it does not establish a convincing connection between the term and the pumpkin. A more compelling theory is that the application of jack-o'-lantern to a hollowed-out, carved pumpkin originated in nighttime pumpkin pranks.

In 19th-century America, the pumpkin was readily available to young pranksters who knew that a grotesque face could be carved into its hollowed-out body, and that if it were lit up it could be used to frighten unwary people at night.

The History of 'Jack-O'-Lantern'

Eventually, people began referring to the pumpkin in the prank as a jack-o'-lantern because of its similar flickering, glowing appearance when lit to the jack-o'-lantern lights seen in marshy areas. The leap from the prank pumpkin to the marsh lights is speculative, but it is reasonable to believe that Americans were aware of the ignis fatuus through scientific articles in newspapers and magazines and through stories about Britain.


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Whatever your belief, the uncertainty of how the pumpkin jack-o'-lantern got its name is certainly fitting for the Halloween decoration. Also fitting is that the first known use of its name in print is in American Gothic writer Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales in which the hiding of a legendary bright gem, the Great Carbuncle, is discussed:. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle. The Jack O'lantern was the name of the ship. When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

It is an ancient British custom to light great bonfires Bone-fire to clear before Winter froze the ground on Hallowe'en, and carry blazing fagots about on long poles; but in place of this, American boys delight in the funny grinning jack-o'-lanterns made of huge yellow pumpkins with a candle inside.

In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became a symbol of Halloween.

More Words At Play

The story of the jack-o'-lantern comes in many forms and is similar to the story of Will-o'-the-wisp [25] retold in different forms across Western Europe , [26] including, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. One story says that Jack tricked Satan into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there, Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that Satan couldn't get down.

Another version [ citation needed ] of the story says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen. He then met Satan, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting Satan with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told Satan to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods Satan could take on any shape he wanted ; later, when the coin Satan disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it.

The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped. In both folktales, Jack lets Satan go only after he agrees to never take his soul.

Many years later, the thief died, as all living things do.


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  4. Of course, Jack's life had been too sinful for him to go to heaven; however, Satan had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well [30]. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and Satan mockingly tossed him a burning coal, to light his way. Jack carved out one of his turnips which were his favorite food , put the coal inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place [31].

    THE STORY OF JACK-O'-LANTERN in less than 3 MINUTES!!!

    He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or jack o'lantern. Thomas Quiller Couch d. The people of Polperro regarded them both as pixies. Jack o' the lantern!

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    Joan the wad, Who tickled the maid and made her mad Light me home, the weather's bad. Jack-o-lanterns were also a way of protecting one's home against the undead. Superstitious people [33] used them specifically to ward off vampires. They thought this because it was said that the jack-o-lantern's light was a way of identifying vampires who, once their identity was known, would give up their hunt for you. Sections of the pumpkin or turnip are cut out to make holes, often depicting a face, which may be either cheerful, scary, or comical.

    A variety of tools can be used to carve and hollow out the gourd, ranging from simple knives and spoons to specialized instruments, typically sold in holiday sections of North American grocery stores. Printed stencils can be used as a guide for increasingly complex designs. After carving, a light source such as a flame candle , electric candle, or tea light is placed inside the gourd, and the top is put back into place.

    The source is normally inserted to light the design from the inside and add an extra measure of spookiness. Sometimes a chimney is carved, too.

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    It is possible to create surprisingly artistic designs, either simple or intricate in nature. A Halloween cake topped with a jack-o'-lantern. For a long time, Keene, New Hampshire , held the world record for most jack-o'-lanterns carved and lit in one place. The Life is Good company teamed up with Camp Sunshine , a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, to break the record.

    History of the Jack O’ Lantern - HISTORY

    A record was set on October 21, , when 30, jack-o'-lanterns were simultaneously lit on Boston Common. On October 19, , Keene, New Hampshire , broke the Boston record and reclaimed the world record for most lit jack-o'-lanterns on display 30, Keene has now broken the record eight times since the original attempt. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Jack-o'-lantern disambiguation. It's easy to grasp how people might have associated the natural phenomenon to flickering distant lanterns held by Jack ; however, the connection of jack-o'-lantern to a carved, lit pumpkin is not as clear.

    Retrieved 9 May National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved October 16, Cook Islands Maori Dictionary. Retrieved February 17, Retrieved October 19, They continue to be popular choices today as carved lanterns in Northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; the British purchased a million pumpkins for Halloween in Retrieved September 23, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.