Halloween Traditions: Jack-o-Lanterns

halloweenThere is a giveaway raffle involved – see the bottom of the post for details!


For years I’ve had these two tiny cauldrons made to look like carved pumpkins. This year I found some batter-powered tea-lights to put in them, and both my kids immediately knew what to do. When they get up at night, they use them like a lantern. Pretty cute.

Carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is a Halloween tradition that I’ve always loved. Granted, scooping out the gunk is disgusting. But picking out the perfect pumpkin, coming up with the design, and carving it out is something my parents did with me and my brother, and we now do with our kids. We also roast the pumpkin seeds.

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a little research on the history of jack-o-lanterns. Interestingly, I discovered that no two sources completely agree on the full story. My sources do agree that this tradition apparently gets its origins from the British Isles – Ireland most likely. They didn’t have pumpkins, so they carved turnips or beets into little hand-held lanterns.

Where my sources disagree concerns the carving faces into them, particularly at Halloween.

Stingy Jack

Some sources attribute this to the legend of Stingy Jack who has some interactions with the devil. When he dies, heaven doesn’t want him, and hell can’t take him, so he wanders the earth as a spirit with only a burning coal to light his way. So people started carving these lanterns with faces and putting them in their windows to ward off evil spirits. These sources don’t explain how this started happening at Halloween. However, as a time traditionally considered to be when evil spirits lingered, I’d say the correlation is obvious.

Children’s Play

Some sources say these were used by boys to play pranks on travelers. Others say that they were carried by children on Nov 1 and 2 (All Saints and All Souls Days) when they went door to door begging for soul cakes. To light their way or to ward off evil souls is not mentioned. Maybe both?

Welcome to America

Sources start to agree again when they say that this tradition was brought to America by the Irish where they discovered pumpkins (indigenous to North America) and started using those instead. However, recorded history associates carving pumpkins with fall in general, not necessarily Halloween, in the early 1800s. But as time goes on, they became more and more linked to the Halloween traditions.

Current Day

These days, while pumpkins are linked with fall, the carving of them into jack-o-lanterns is entirely linked with Halloween. And the carvings are getting more and more elaborate. Not in my household, though. Ha! But there are pumpkin carving contests with incredible works of art displayed. Whether they’re warding off evil spirits, lighting the way, or are just for looks, jack-o-lanterns are fun. I hope this is one tradition that sticks around!



Share pictures of your carved pumpkins (any year) or links to your favorite carving designs to be entered into a raffle. The drawing will be held October 10th at 8pm PST. The winner will received a BlueRay copy of “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” and a $5 Amazon gift certificate!

Happy carving!

UPDATE 10/10/14: Contracts to the raffle winner:  Lany A. !!!




3 thoughts on “Halloween Traditions: Jack-o-Lanterns

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    1. Ummm… my pumpkin carving looks very sad next to yours. Awesome Iron Man!

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