Depending on who is telling this story, the history of pumpkin carving, also known as the Halloween tradition of carving Jack-O-Lanterns, began during the 18th century in Ireland. The story begins with a deal made between a man (Stingy Jack, a blacksmith by trade) and the devil. According to the story, the young Irishman Jack lived a life of sin and didn’t want to go to hell, so he tricked the devil into guaranteeing that he would not go to hell to pay for all of his sins.
In the history of pumpkin carving, the whole tale started with a deal with the devil.
What “Stingy Jack” didn’t realize was the deal also prevented him from going to heaven. When he realized this, Jack and the devil worked out an agreement that would allow him to stay in purgatory, walking the earth endlessly after his death, as a night watchman, instead of going to heaven or hell. When “Stingy Jack” died, the devil gave him a burning ember to light his way around purgatory. Jack carried this ember in a carved turnip. The carved turnip was named “Jack-O-Lantern,” which translates to a man with a lantern, named after “Stingy Jack.”
Can you see where we are going with this? Jack-O-Lantern was a crazy guy named Jack holding a lantern.
Irish families followed this autumnal legend and carved faces into turnips and light them with candles. These root vegetables were designed to scare away ghosts and ghouls. Pumpkin carving transcends time and continents. As people from the Isles moved to the United States, they took the tradition with them, except that they moved on to carve pumpkins during the fall months. We’re glad that they did this, as the carved turnips were a little too scary.
When in history did pumpkin carving become a Halloween activity?
Halloween is an ancient holiday, dating all the way back to the Celts of the British Isles. Originally, a pagan holiday called Samhain, people lit bonfires and dressed in animal skins to confuse and scare off the spirits that emerged with the onset of winter and was historically tied to All-Saints Day. The night before this holiday was named All Hallows Eve, later dubbed Halloween.
Halloween arrives in America
As time passed, the holiday progressed and changed into a more secular event that included trick or treating and costume parties.
The celebration of Halloween was limited in colonial New England because of religious belief systems, however, Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies.
Common was Autumn Harvest Parties celebrating the final harvest of the year where neighbors gathered to share ghost stories. It took some time before the Halloween tradition reached across America.
Carving pumpkins is now a central part of the Halloween celebration, and we’re glad the tradition has stuck around! What would the fall be without pumpkin carving, warm sweaters, and spooky nights?
Notes on Halloween
What to eat
What to pin
Our favorite Pinterest Board for Halloween
If you enjoy any pumpkin carving or Halloween partying this year, take a photo of them and share it with us using #waxingkara on Instagram. We love seeing your photos!