Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween?

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Caitlin Walsh’s homemade Jack o’lantern

Caitlin Walsh

Halloween is just around the corner and it’s that time of the year again when kids are thinking about what costumes they’ll wear, the bundles of candy that are on the market at every store, and pumpkins that are transformed into scary faces and lit to display as Jack o’lanterns. However do people know the history of these Halloween customs, specifically Jack o’lanterns? More importantly, do WO students know the history of carving Jack o’lanterns on this holiday?

Soph. Tara Fishnick said, “No I actually don’t know why we carve pumpkins on Halloween, but that’s a good question. I’m guessing it’s just a fun activity to do with your family and friends.”

Soph. Wally Kenat said, “No why do we? I suppose it’s just one of those traditions we just stopped talking about why we do it.”

The Legend:

The story behind Jack o’lanterns varies a little bit depending on who is telling the story, but all stories involve a tale about Stingy Jack and his deal with the Devil. Legend has it that Jack tricked the Devil and trapped him under the power of Jesus’s cross. Jack threatened the Devil that he would not be freed until he swore not to claim Jack’s soul if he should die over the course of ten years. The Devil had no choice but to agree and was then freed. Within those ten years, Jack eventually passed away and found himself ready to enter the gates of heaven, but God refused to allow such a trickster into heaven. With nowhere to go, he returned to the Devil. However, the Devil must keep his word not to claim his soul for ten years from their last bargain and could not let Jack into hell. The Devil sent him away with a lump of burning coal that Jack used to put into a carved-out turnip to light his way. Jack has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. In Ireland, where the story was originated, people made their own versions of Jack o’lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them on windows sills or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. When the Irish immigrated to America, they brought the Jack o’lantern tradition with them. They soon realized that the pumpkin, native to America, was an ideal fruit for carving. Ever since, people have been carving Jack o’lanterns from pumpkins to display as a common tradition.

After reading the story behind Jack o’lanterns, what were the students thoughts?

Soph. Tara Fishnick said, “I think that’s actually a really fascinating story, but it’s pretty dark and creepy too. I carve pumpkins almost every year, yet I had no idea of the purpose. It’s cool how this tradition has been passed on for so many generations.”

Soph. Wally Kenat said, “I had a feeling the story behind Jack o’lanterns would be some kind of folktale. Very interesting though.”

As we prepare for Halloween festivities, now we can all carve pumpkins with knowledge of Jack and an important lesson he learned about his stinginess. No good comes from a greedy, selfish life. Because you might find yourself wandering the face of earth for eternity left with only a burning coal and a carved-out turnip to guide your way.