Halloween Jack-O’-Lantern

Jack-O-Lantern with decoration.

Jack-O-Lantern with decoration.

Carved Pumpkins Demystified

With only a few days to go until Halloween, people start decorating their houses and front yards. Carved pumpkins in particular are very common. But have you ever asked yourself why we carve pumpkins on Halloween?

Carved pumpkins are also called Jack-O’-Lanterns. It means man with a lantern. In 17th century Britain, this was a night watchman.

However, there is also the Irish tale of Stingy Jack. According to this tale, Stingy Jack was forced to roam the earth restlessly after his death. Because of a trick he played on the devil, he could neither enter heaven nor hell. Stingy Jack only had a turnip with him. The devil gave him a glowing piece of ember, to help Stingy Jack light his way. He hollowed it out and carved the turnip to use it as a lantern by placing the glowing ember inside, creating the Jack-O’-Lantern.

Jack-O'-Lanterns. Picture source: Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures

Jack-O’-Lanterns. Picture source: Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures

So on All Hallows Eve, the Irish hollowed out various root vegetables and even potatoes to make lanterns. They placed them in front of their houses to protect themselves against evil spirits and to keep away Stingy Jack. So the first Jack-O’-Lanterns were not pumpkins! This only changed when the Irish started to emigrate to the US, they found that pumpkins are much easier to carve, thus creating the pumpkin Jack-O’-Lanterns we know today.

Vocabulary (in order of appearance)

front yard: garden in front of a house
to carve: to cut an object (here a pumpkin) with a knife, to produce a design, inscription.
lantern: a lamp in a metal frame with glass sides
watchman: A man who looks after a building especially at night.
according to: as stated / recorded by someone / something
forced: to make someone do sth against their will
roam: to travel around without a goal or purpose
restlessly: without a break. Not being able to relax or remain still.
turnip: a round root vegetable (see picture at the bottom of the page)
ember: when a fire dies, the only thing left are glowing pieces of coal or wood, called embers
hollowed out: to carve a hole or space into something
root vegetables: carrots, swedes, turnips, beetroot etc. Vegetables whose roots are edible.
spirit: (here) ghost or supernatural being
emigrate: to go away to live permanently in another country
thus: therefore

Turnips. Picture source: Pixabay / Chefkeem

Turnips. Picture source: Pixabay / Chefkeem

The Tale of Stingy Jack (accessed on 25.10.13)
Why do we carve pumpkins (accessed on 25.10.13)


Further reading:
Halloween Etymology
Halloween History
Halloween Themed Idioms


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