Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without Jack O’ Lanterns. Carving pumpkins into scary faces and artistic designs is a tradition that is as much a part of the holiday as Trick or Treating or wearing costumes. But Jack O’Lanterns , like many other traditions associated with Halloween, have roots in ancient Celtic rituals associated with the festival of Samhain. Samhain was held at the end of the fall each year as a celebration for the harvest and the start of the new year. The Celts believed that the night of Samhain was when the veil that separated the living and the dead would be lifted and the dead and supernatural beings like fairies would be roaming the Earth.
The Celts would carve scary faces into turnips and beets and place lit candles inside them. They used these lanterns to light their way or placed them in the windows of their homes to scare away evil spirits. Using pumpkins to make these lanterns became popular once Irish and Scottish immigrants started to celebrate Halloween in America.
Pumpkins were much easier to get than turnips, so pumpkins became the popular choice to make Jack O’Lanterns with. Here are some other fun facts about the history of Jack O’Lanterns:
Jack O’Lanterns were named for an Irish blacksmith – According to Irish legend Jack O’Lanterns get their name from a blacksmith named Jack who managed to trick the devil and keep his soul after making a deal with the devil to sell his soul. When God didn’t want him in heaven and the devil didn’t want him in hell Jack was sent back to Earth to roam the land looking for a home using a carved out turnip lantern to light his way. That’s how Jack O’Lanterns got their name.
Most pumpkins come from Illinois – More than 70% of the pumpkins that end up getting carved into Jack O’Lanterns are grown in Illinois. The soil and weather conditions in IL are just right for growing gourds like pumpkins and squash. This year the pumpkin that you carve probably was grown in Illinois along with millions of other pumpkins that will end up being carved into Jack O’Lanterns for the holiday.
Pumpkin carving is a competitive sport – Each year there are dozens of competitions for artists that want to win prizes and show off their skills when it comes to pumpkin carving. Some people have turned their love of carving pumpkins into a career and will carve Jack O’Lanterns into elaborate custom designs for a fee. If you want to have designer pumpkins and don’t have the skills or time to carve your own pumpkins you can hire a professional pumpkin carver to do it for you.
Perfectly round pumpkins are not the best for creating Jack O’Lanterns – Surprised? Most people think that the perfect pumpkin should be perfectly round but that’s not the case. Expert carvers say that pumpkins that are oblong are the best ones for carving.