10 Days of Halloween: Day 6 – A Short History of the Jack-o-Lantern

So sorry! My computer was down for several days and I lost all my posts! I am trying to upload in time for Halloween now!

Hello ghouls and monstrosities! 

It’s that time of year again – Halloween! 

I will be posting ten posts all about Halloween, counting up to the night itself! 

Comment below, follow me and enjoy! 


SanMo - Halloween - Pumpkin - JackoLantern 7

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If this were a couple centuries ago … and we were in Ireland or Wales or Scotland or England … and we were so inclined, our Jack-o-Lanterns would have been made of turnips instead of pumpkins. 

Yep. Turnips.

There are a few reasons for this: pumpkins are an American flora in origin (so, no pumpkins in Europe until those Pilgrim types) and turnips aren’t. So … well that makes sense, doesn’t it? But then, you ask – why with the Jack-o-Lanterns at all? What was the point of carving faces into various vegetation and then lighting them up from the insides?

Funny you should ask. I may have some answers.

And while I explain, take a look at this video for your own edification and some cool pumpkin carving:

First off, the term – “Jack-o-Lantern” – and I start off with reference to a great movie: Have you watched Brave? The story about a Scottish feminist icon who follows these little magic lights called willo-the-wisps? Well, another term for those are jack-o-lanterns. Well, at least as far back as the 1660s it was. Basically, the term derives from “foolish fire” and refers, at least in European tradition, to lights over the bogs and such. 

So of course, now we have to ask how those European word-makers got from naming strange lights over the bog to carving up vegetables and lighting them up, right? 

Right. So, There is some debate on that. There is a folk story of one Jack the Lantern, who sold his soul to the Devil or somesuch, tricked our horned Halloween friend and then was cursed to walk the earth with nothing but a lantern for company. But still … why the carved up vegetables? Well, though the carving of vegetables around the world is a pretty common phenomena, the carving we’re talking about is particular to Ireland, and actually quite recent – mid-19th century type of recent. 

I feel like there is much more to these pagan rituals that have been lost to time … dammit.

I know, I know. The 19th century, man. Like, what was going on? Why is everything just so damned creepy? 

I don’t know. All I know is thank the goddess for the 19th century! Those Victorians were insane – but because of them we have creepy old houses (one of which I want to own one day), white wedding dresses, lit-up Xmas trees and apparently, carved up pumpkins for Halloween. Also, a healthy fear of dolls, shrouded ladies and any mention of asylums.

Anyways, apparently, in the 19th century Ireland, it was common practice to carve up turnips and carry them from house to house – lighting your way – for the Samhain festivities. And why scary faces? Well, my friends – Samhain is the time of the year where the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. And as such, anything you have to scare away those dead that are evil and want to do you harm – you use it. And for peasants, it was scary faces that lit up to scare the evil spirits back across to their side of the veil. Makes sense, in a way. 

Pumpkins came around with the Irish, it is suggested. The more Irish that got on the boat to the Americas, the more likely they would find that pumpkins made for easier carving than turnips for their Samhain celebrations. And as to why we no longer carry around turnips to light our way (ignoring the fact that we have flashlights, streelamps and even neon costumes now) – have you tried carrying a pumpkin for very long? I carried ours from the store to my car and my arms felt strained. I challenge you to carry one above your head all night as you trick-or-treat. 

So there you have it – a history, albeit a short one, of the Jack-O-Lantern. I think we’ve come to a point where they’re more fun than scary – we’ve moved from horrifying faces (which are still my favourite) to deisgns of witches, spiders, emblems, logos and things that have nothing to do with Halloween at all

For us, this year, we’re going old school.

What are you pumpkins looking like this year? 

Sources: Wikipedia History Channel  Boston.com


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