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Have you ever wondered where the carving of pumpkins for Halloween comes from? The name Jack-O-Lantern came about in the 17th century and is of British origin, where it literally meant "man with lantern". It was also the nickname for the natural phenomenon known as "fools fire" or "will o'the wisp". Which was the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night in the wetlands which became associated with ghosts and fairies playing pranks on visitors.
Over time the Jack-O-Lantern became a popular term for the homemade object also known as a "turnip lantern". This would describe a lantern made by scooping out the inside of a turnip, then to carve the shell into a rude scary face, placing a lighted candle inside it.
In some parts of Great Britian they would carry these turnip lanterns as a form of pranksterism, which was mischevious lads frightening travelers on the road. For Catholic children is was the custom to carry a Jack-O-Lantern while going door to door to represent the souls of the dead while begging for soul cakes on All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. They were also carried on the night of November 5th for Guy Fawkes Day.
Legend has it that the Jack-O-Lantern came from an Irishman known as Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack tricked the devil into promising he wouldn't have to go to hell for his sins. When he died he found out he had been barred from heaven. Jack journeyed to the gates of hell to demand what was due him. The devil kept his promise and doomed Jack to wonder the earth for all eternity with only an ember of hellfire to light his way...so he was known as Jack O'Lantern.
When Irish immigrants brought the custom of carving Jack-O-Lanterns to North America the more commonly available pumpkin came to be used for this purpose. In the late 19th century the pumpkin carving became a Halloween staple across the United States.
So check out all the Jack-O-Lanterns on this Hallow's Eve.
Until next week....