Halloween: Jack-o’-lanterns

October 21, 2019

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to address the Halloween subject of carving pumpkins or also known as Jack-o’-lanterns. It is not often we hear the term, Jack-o’-lanterns, anymore but I guess times change.

Origin of Jack-o’-lanterns :

Well before they were Jack-o’-lanterns they were called will-o’-the-wisp. At least in the old folklore’s of England and other parts of Western Europe. This started around the mid to late 1600s. The term “Jack” just replaced “Will” but they meant virtually the same thing. One was of the torch. Will of the torch, and the other of the lantern, Jack. It was based off the lighting phenomenon that occurs but the will-o’-the ‘wisp was most commonly just a torch. I know it’s confusing but it slowly grew from a standard torch, a bundle of sticks and what not, to the surrounding vessel that contained the flame.

The carvings from the pumpkins was not original either. Most often it was gourds or other small vegetables that could be hollowed out for their carving purposes and it wasn’t until later that the use of adding the flame became a common thing. The Maori people have recorded history of doing it as far back as 700 years ago. Carvings of gourds and so forth go back further in Europe with the celebration of Samhain. But like I mentioned they were not always used to contain a fire. So still they were not technically Jack-o’-lanterns yet.

Jack-o’-lanterns Purpose :

The original uses are based on many assumptions and some history. The carvings of the ghoulish creatures for faces was most often used in ways to scare people away. The day after October 31st, or Halloween, is November 1st and also known as All Saints Day. Using the carvings to symbolize the deceased, or the spirits of the deceased, was meant to be a purpose of respect. Some other cultures beliefs were that certain carvings on the pumpkins or gourds would be a means to keep evil spirits away and ward off bad karma.

Jack-o’-lanterns Today :

Well as we know they are carved for many different reason today. Tradition, fun, competitions, decorations, and some places still use them for their beliefs or other rituals.

The carvings as we know it has changed dramatically over the years from specialized tools to the plain old simply triangle patterns for orifices. They are all still great in their own way and fun to do. So I hope everyone thinks a little about these origins and brings back the term, Jack-o’-lanterns,  a little this year and educate the young ones.


Thanks for Reading,

Joshua Crane Dowidat

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