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At Halloween, fun pumpkins with carved faces can be seen on many home doorsteps.

History of the Jack O Lantern

Most people will think of pumpkins with carved faces and lights inside them when they think about Jack O Lanterns, but this is not how this symbol of Halloween began.

The true origins of the Jack O Lantern go way back into Irish history where there are two versions of how the lantern came into existence – the story of Stingy Jack and the Celtic festival of Samhain.

In the story of Stingy Jack a drunk called Jack made a deal with the Devil and double crossed him twice. Obviously this angered the Devil and when Jack died he was not allowed into Heaven by God. He was sent to Hell to face the Devil and he wouldn’t let him into Hell either and told him to go back to where he first came from. The light was dark so Jack asked for a light to guide his way – in response to this the Devil gave him a coal that was glowing and Jack placed this inside a turnip that had been carved out.

The story ends with Jack roaming the earth looking for his true home using the carved out turnip and the piece of coal to light the way. Legend has it that Jack has never found his way home and on Halloween he can be seen searching for the right road to take using his carved out turnip as a light.

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For many years turnips were used in
Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England
as a symbol of Halloween.

Samhain And Halloween

In Scotland and Ireland the festival of Samhain was traditionally celebrated between the harvest period and at the start of winter. During this time people believed that ghosts and evils spirits would be able to enter the human world and steal their harvests. To prevent this from happening people would wear frightening masks to ward off the sprits, they would also carve scary faces into turnips and place these outside their doors with offerings of food. These were used to stop the ghosts and spirits mentioning their homes and stealing more of their property.

For many years turnips were used in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England as a symbol of Halloween. They were carved out by adults and children and used as decoration as time went on and the festival of Samhain started to be consigned to history. However some people still do celebrate Samhain in Europe and will still use turnips as their Jack O Lanterns.

Jack O Lanterns Brought To America

As celebrating Halloween became more popular in America the traditional Jack O Lanterns began to change. Instead of using turnips to carve these scary faces out of pumpkins were used as they were larger. The use of pumpkins for Jack O Lanterns is also very popular in Europe now and they are used more frequently than turnips or other types of squash.