History of the Halloween Jack-O’-Lantern

By Taylor Knaub 10.27.2016 blog

Now that it’s October, there’s only one thing on your mind. It haunts you when you’re awake. It follows you into your dreams. It crowds your Instagram timeline. It could only be one thing… pumpkin. Whether you’re taking a selfie with your pumpkin spice latte (#PSL) or fighting with your cousins about who makes the best pumpkin pie, October is the month of this fruit (yes, FRUIT – in fact, it’s a berry… and strawberries aren’t actually berries…this world is complex).

dog sit as a ghost for halloween in front of the door at home entrance with pumpkin lantern or light scary and spooky

Not only is pumpkin delicious, but it’s versatile too! It even becomes one of the most recognizable decorations on Halloween. Jack-o’-lanterns have been around for centuries, but how did putting a candle inside a toothy carved-out food become a tradition? Does the light of the candle that shines through the dark of the night symbolize the evils that lurk in the darkness?

Stingy Jack

As most great stories go, the history of the jack-o’-lantern derives from an old folktale. This Irish story describes a man named Stingy Jack who invites the Devil for a beverage. Sticking true to his name, Stingy Jack doesn’t want to pay for it, so he convinces the Devil to turn into a coin in order to pay for the tab. Of course, Jack steals the coin and sticks it in his pocket next to a crucifix so that the Devil can’t return to his true form. Bold move, Jack.

Jack only frees the Devil after making him promise that he won’t bother Jack for a year, and he won’t claim Jack’s soul when Jack dies. So a year passes, and the Devil and Jack are back to being pals hanging out by a fruit tree. Naturally, the Devil, being the accommodating Hell-dwelling soul that he is, climbs the tree to get some fruit for Jack. Jack tricks the Devil yet again and traps him in the tree by carving a cross in the trunk. He doesn’t let the Devil down until he promises not to bother Jack again for another 10 years.

Process of carving out a pumpkin to prepare halloween lantern

Of course, Jack dies shortly thereafter. When he gets rejected at the pearly gates of Heaven because he’s basically a horrible person, Jack comes running back to the Devil in Hell. The Devil finally stands his ground and doesn’t let Jack into Hell, but we’re guessing he has a hard time saying no because he gives Jack a burning coal to help him light his way through purgatory. Jack puts this coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since.


The people of the Celtic region took this story to heart and carved horrifying faces into potatoes, turnips, and beets and put candles inside them. They believed that putting these lanterns – hence the name “jack-o’-lantern” – in their windows would ward off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits during their annual Samhain festival (which, it’s believed, is where the whole Halloween thing started). Once the Celts immigrated to North America, pumpkins were all over the place, so they became the new jack-o’-lantern vessel. Now, we’re never “stingy” with our pumpkin use in October.


  1. the flash

    it is the next big thing

  2. the flash


  3. the flash

    I think it is cool

  4. Papi Chulo

    This scared me quite a bit. 😮

  5. August

    that is so cool and I love Halloween

  6. rene

    i never know that about a pumpkin

  7. ansley

    This was a great story, but also very creepy, and if you knew me you would know that i love creepy!!!! This is an awesome story, and is very educated. I know now that this a story i will never forget……..

  8. maddie deyoung

    that’s kool !

  9. Laurana

    this is sooo cool because I love carving pumpkins

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