As a student of the world, it’s always interesting to learn the origin story of famous holiday traditions. With today being Halloween, I thought I’d track down the history of the holiday’s most famous representative: The Jack-o’-lantern.
Irish legend has the Jack-o’-lantern originating when a stingy old man named Jack tricked the Devil over and over again. When Jack died, he was forbidden from entering both Heaven and Hell, and so was condemned to walk the earth carrying a carved lantern, fooling travelers into taking the wrong path on their journey.
Interesting legend. But not necessarily the real story.
The term Jack-o’-lantern actually originated in the UK in the 1660s, when people would see a fascinating, and probably scary, phenomenon known as ignis fatuus, more commonly known as Will-o’-the-wisps. This strange, flickering light show would happen over peat bogs, most likely the result of chemical reactions to the damp atmospheric conditions.
Carving vegetables like gourds, turnips, or pumpkins has been around for thousands of years, but eventually the legend of Jack-o’-lantern would combine with the carving tradition to become the fun family activity we know today. Today, we set the carved pumpkins out on the front stoop to lure Trick-Or-Treaters to our door on Halloween. So, as you set the pumpkins on the porch and answer the door for young candy seekers, remember the tale of Jack-o’-lantern.