Did Jack O’Lanterns originate in Ireland?

Candle-lit pumpkins with spooky faces are a surefire indication that Halloween is approaching.

Making jack-o-lanterns for Halloween is a tradition that is thought to have started in Ireland. In some areas of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, “turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to operate as lanterns and often decorated with hideous faces,” to scare away the soul of ‘Stingy Jack’ was used during Halloween in the 19th century.

Ireland, where the tradition of creating jack-o-lanterns began. In fact, ‘Stingy Jack’ is a character in an Irish folktale from whence the word “jack-o’-lantern” originates.

People have long carved jack-o-lanterns. The custom has its roots in an Irish legend about a man known as “Stingy Jack.”

The Legend of “Stingy Jack”

The Devil was reportedly invited to join Stingy Jack for a drink. Stingy Jack, true to his name, refused to pay for his drink, so he persuaded the Devil to transform himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for their drinks.

The Devil then tried to change back into his normal shape, but Jack opted to keep the money and placed it in his pocket next to a silver cross to stop the Devil from taking his true form.

The Devil was eventually set free by Jack, but only after agreeing to stay away from him for a year and not claim his soul should Jack pass away.

The Devil was once more duped by Jack the next year into climbing a tree to grab some fruit. Jack cut a cross into the tree’s bark while he was in the tree so that the Devil would have to vow not to bother him for another ten years before he could climb down.

Later, Jack passed away. According to mythology, God would not permit such a repugnant person into heaven.

The Devil refused to let Jack into hell because he was offended by the deception he had performed on him and was honouring his promise not to take Jack’s soul. Jack was left alone in the pitch-black night with just burning coal to guide him.

Since then, Jack has been wandering the Earth with the coal that he placed in the hollowed-out turnip.

Irish people started calling this spectral apparition “Jack of the Lantern,” and later just “Jack O’Lantern.”

In order to scare away ‘Stingy Jack’ and other travelling evil spirits, people in Ireland and Scotland started to create their own take on Jack’s lanterns by carving grotesque faces into turnips or potatoes and hanging them from windows or close to doors.

When these immigrants arrived in the United States, they carried the jack-o-lantern custom with them. They quickly discovered that pumpkins, an American fruit, made ideal jack-o’-lanterns.