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Elizabeth is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, and author. Her first book “Beyond Black and White” is available now. She is an old soul who's young at heart, a human jukebox, and a corgi lady in training. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @ElizabethThe.

The More You Know: Jack O’ Lantern

University student and perpetual procrastinator, Elizabeth Rosalyn has chosen to put her Google/Wikipedia researching skills to good use by sharing her findings on random topics in the new series exclusive to The Hudsucker, “The More You Know”. This month, she focuses on the folklore behind jack-o’-lanterns.

The glaring glow of the jack-o’-lantern sets the mood for the haunting festivities of Halloween. From picking the perfect pumpkin from the patch to carving creative faces and images, jack-o’-lanterns are a beloved tradition among many ghouls and goblins.

Image Credit: HGTV

Image Credit: HGTV

But I really wonder… whose bright idea was it to cut open a pumpkin, stab it a few times, and stick a candle inside?

The origin of the jack-o’-lantern has its roots in 17th century Irish folklore. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘jack-o’-lantern’ refers to the figure of “the night watchmen with a lantern,” which alludes to the legend of the trickster, Stingy Jack.

The story of the masterful manipulator goes as follows… the thieving and scheming Jack constantly duped the devil with his pranks. Among his many tricks, he once conned the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross on its bark. Jack freed the devil after he had promised not to claim Jack’s soul upon his death. However, as a result of the stingy cheat’s treacherous deeds on earth, when Jack died, he was denied entrance into both heaven AND hell. Keeping his promise to not take Jack’s soul, the devil gave him burning coal, which Jack kept in a turnip. Doomed to roam the earth for eternity, Jack carried his lighted turnip as a lantern so he could walk in the dark.

During the festival of Samhaim, the Irish and Scottish would use turnip lanterns to protect themselves and their homes from unwanted spirits. In the mid 19th century, when immigrants from the British Isles brought their versions of the Halloween celebration to America, they found a more accessible and suitable vegetable for carving – pumpkins! The orange vegetables were a lot more abundant to obtain during autumn harvest season as well as easier to carve and hollow out than turnips. Thus, the pumpkin lantern as we now know it was born!

This Halloween, when you see these illuminated pumpkins lighting up the streets, remember the story behind the jack-o’-lantern!

Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

– John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Pumpkin” (1850)

What are some of the best pumpkin carving designs that you have seen this season?

I love the techno-creativity of this Pumpktris! (a.k.a. what happens when you combine a pumpkin and Tetris!)


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  1. Halloween with The Hudsucker: Fearfest! | The Hudsucker - November 21, 2013

    […] The More You Know: Jack O’Lantern (Elizabeth Rosalyn The) […]

  2. Happy Halloween from The Hudsucker! | The Hudsucker - October 31, 2014

    […] The More You Know: Jack O’Lantern: Our Managing Editor and Staff Writer, Elizabeth The tackles Halloween with brains. Sharing with readers the origins behind the Jack O’Lantern, there’s much more to this fruitful pumpkin than meets the eye. Continue reading… […]

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