The Origin Of Jack-O-Lanterns
Jack-o-lanterns are often associated with the spooky festivities of the season and the popular custom of pumpkin carving is thought to be an American tradition. However, the practice of carving lanterns from vegetables actually hails from Ireland and the first Jack-o– Lanterns were made of turnips.
The Irish Tradition
The legend dates back to Irish folklore of the 1800s. It is said that a man named Jack was banned from both heaven and hell because of his drunken and devious behavior. Left with no other option, Jack was doomed to wander the darkness of night with nothing but a burning coal inside of a carved out turnip to help him find his way. And so, the idea of a Jack-o-lantern came to life.
Turnips Versus Pumpkins
Turnips were once the favored choice for making Jack-o-lanterns because they were easier to carve and lasted longer than pumpkins. On top of being softer and easier to scoop out, turnips had natural grooves which lent well to being carved with intricate designs. Additionally, they were available to the Irish year round, unlike pumpkins which only grew seasonally. It is thought that when immigrants traveled to America they discovered pumpkins, which were easier to carve and much larger, and the tradition of carving Jack-o-lanterns evolved.
The Symbolism Of Jack-O-Lanterns
Today, carving Jack-o-lanterns is a beloved tradition and has taken on a different meaning than its Irish beginnings. Squashed turnips, once the favored choice of vegetables, have long been replaced by pumpkins, a fruit that represents many things:
- Growth – Pumpkins are a symbol of fertility, abundance and growth.
- Joyfulness – The happy arrangement of carved features can light up a room with joy.
- Community – Carving pumpkins with family serves as a reminder of the importance of community and connections.
Whether it’s from a turnip or a pumpkin, the tradition of Jack-o-lanterns will remain a classic symbol of the season and of the Irish culture.