The true origins of the Jack O Lantern go way back into Irish history and the story of Stingy Jack and the Celtic festival of Samhain.
In the story of Stingy Jack, he was a drunk who made a deal with the Devil and double crossed him twice. Obviously this angered the Devil and when Jack died he was not allowed into Heaven by God. He was sent to Hell to face the Devil who wouldn't let him into Hell either. It was dark in Hell so Jack asked for a light to guide his way back to heaven- in response to this the Devil gave him a coal that was glowing which Jack placed inside a carved out turnip.
The story ends with Jack roaming the earth looking for his true home using the carved out turnip and the piece of coal to light the way. Legend has it that Jack has never found his way home and on Halloween he can be seen searching for the right road to take using his carved out turnip as a light.
Samhain And Halloween
Another part of the Jack O Lantern legend can be found in Samhain. In Scotland and Ireland the festival of Samhain was traditionally celebrated between the harvest period and at the start of winter. During this time people believed that ghosts and evils spirits would be able to enter the human world and steal their harvests. To prevent this from happening people would wear frightening masks to ward off the sprits. They would also carve scary faces into turnips and place these outside their doors with offerings of food. These were used to stop the ghosts and spirits from entering their homes and stealing more of their property.
For many years turnips were used in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England as a symbol of Halloween. They were carved out by adults and children and used as decorations.
Jack O Lanterns Brought To America
As celebrating Halloween became more popular in America the traditional Jack O Lanterns began to change. Instead of using turnips, pumpkins were used as they were larger and easier to carve faces into. The use of pumpkins for Jack O Lanterns is also very popular in Europe now and they are used more frequently than turnips or other types of squash.