A modern jack-o'-lantern is a carved pumpkin, although originally large turnips were carved. It is associated chiefly with the holiday of Samhain and Halloween and was named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o'-lantern. In a jack-o'-lantern, the top is cut off, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved out, and the lid replaced. It is typically seen during Halloween.
Pumpkin carving is thought to come from Ireland, where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were used.23 Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them, were made on the Gaelic festival of Samhain (31 October–1 November) in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.4 Samhain was a time when fairies and spirits were said to be active.5 The purpose of these lanterns may have been threefold. They may have been used to light one's way while outside on Samhain night; to represent the spirits and otherworldly beings; and/or to protect oneself and one's home from them.6 Bettina Arnold writes that they were sometimes set on windowsills to keep them out of one's home.7 However, others suggest that they originated with All Saints' Day (1 November)/All Souls' Day (2 November) and that they represented Christian souls in purgatory.8
Immigrants from Ireland and Scotland brought the tradition to North America. There, the pumpkin replaced the turnip as pumpkins were more readily available, bigger, and easier to carve. The application of the term to carved pumpkins in American English is first attested in 1834.9 The carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is recorded in 1866.10 In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.11 In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o'-lantern as part of the festivities.11 The poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was born in Massachusetts in 1807, wrote "The Pumpkin" (1850):12
|“||Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
Cornish folklorist Dr. Thomas Quiller Couch (d. 1884) recorded the use of the term in a rhyme used in Polperro, Cornwall, in conjunction with Joan the Wad, the Cornish version of Will-o'-the-wisp. The people of Polperro regarded them both as Pixies. The rhyme goes:13
- Jack o' the lantern! Joan the wad,
- Who tickled the maid and made her mad
- Light me home, the weather's bad.
The story of the carved vegetable as a lantern comes in many variants and is similar to the story of Will-o'-the-wisp14 retold in different forms across Ireland and Scotland. An old Irish folk talecitation needed tells of Stingy Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who uses a cross to trap the Devil. One story15 says that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn't get down. Another talecitation needed says that Jack put a key in the Devil's pocket while he was suspended upside-down.
Another versioncitation needed of the story says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped.
In both folktales, Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which were his favorite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-lantern.
Jack-o-lanterns were also a way of protecting your home against the Undead. Superstitious people used them specifically to ward away vampires. They thought this because it was said that the Jack-o-lantern's light was a way of identifying vampires and, once their identity was known, they would give up their hunt for you.citation needed
Sections of the pumpkin are cut out to make holes, often depicting a face, which may be either cheerful, scary, or comical. More complex carvings are becoming more commonly seen. Popular figures, symbols, and logos are some that can now be seen used on pumpkins. A variety of tools can be used to carve and hollow out the gourd, ranging from simple knives and spoons to specialized instruments, typically sold in holiday sections of North American grocery stores. Printed stencils can be used as a guide for increasingly complex designs. After carving, a light source (traditionally a candle) is placed inside the pumpkin and the top is put back into place. The light is normally inserted to illuminate the design from the inside and add an extra measure of spookiness. Sometimes a chimney is carved, too. It is possible to create surprisingly artistic designs, be they simple or intricate in nature.
For a long time, Keene, New Hampshire held the world record for most jack-o'-lanterns carved and lit in one place. The Life is good company teamed up with Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, to break the record. A record was set on October 21, 2006 when 30,128 jack-o'-lanterns were simultaneously lit on Boston Common.16 Highwood, Illinois tried to set the record on October 31, 2011 with an unofficial count of 30,919, but did not follow the Guinness regulations so the record did not count. Guinness still holds Boston as the world record holder.1718
The world's largest jack-o'-lantern was carved from the then-world's-largest pumpkin on October 31, 2005 in Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania, United States by Scott Cully. The pumpkin was grown by Larry Checkon and weighed 1,469 lb (666.33 kg) on October 1, 2005 at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association Weigh-off.19
- Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=Jack+o%27lantern
|url=missing title (help). Retrieved 9 May 2013.
- The Oxford companion to American food and drink p.269. Oxford University Press, 2007. Retrieved February 17, 2011
- They continue to be popular choices today as carved lanterns in Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the British purchased a million pumpkins for Halloween in 2004. "Pumpkins Passions", BBC, 31 October 2005. Retrieved on 19 October 2006. "Turnip battles with pumpkin for Hallowe'en", BBC, 28 October 2005. Retrieved 23 September 2007.
- Hutton, p.382
- Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing, 2004. p.41
- Hill, Christopher. Holidays and Holy Nights. Quest Books, 2003. p.56
- Arnold, Bettina (2001-10-31). "Bettina Arnold – Halloween Lecture: Halloween Customs in the Celtic World". Halloween Inaugural Celebration. University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee: Center for Celtic Studies. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford University Press, 2003. p.57
- "Jack-o'-lantern," Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest citation is from 1663.
- Daily News (Kingston, Ontario), November 1, 1866: The old time custom of keeping up Hallowe'en was not forgotten last night by the youngsters of the city. They had their maskings and their merry-makings, and perambulated the streets after dark in a way which was no doubt amusing to themselves. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle. Agnes Carr Sage, "Halloween Sports and Customs," Harper's Young People, October 27, 1885, p. 828:
- It is an ancient British custom to light great bonfires (Bone-fire to clear before Winter froze the ground) on Halloween, and carry blazing fagots about on long poles; but in place of this American boys delight in the funny grinning jack-o'-lanterns made of huge yellow pumpkins with a candle inside.
- "The Day We Celebrate: Thanksgiving Treated Gastronomically and Socially," The New York Times, November 24, 1895, p. 27. "Odd Ornaments for Table," The New York Times, October 21, 1900, p. 12.
- Whittier, John Greenleaf. "The Pumpkin".
- Jacqueline Simpson, Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press, 2000
- Jack Santino All around the year: holidays and celebrations in American life, p.157 University of Illinois Press, 1995
- Mark Hoerrner (2006). "History of the Jack-O-Lantern". buzzle.com. Retrieved 2007-05-09.
- Michael Levenson and Kathy McCabe, A love in Common for pumpkins, The Boston Globe, October 22, 2006, p. B6.
- "most lit Jack-o'-lanterns displayed". Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- "Highwood sets pumpkin-carving record - Highland Park News". Highlandpark.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
- "Largest Jack O'Lantern". Guinness World Records 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-05-18. Retrieved October 10, 2009.
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