Halloween Wiki
Halloween Wiki

A collection of jack-o-lanterns.

A jack-o-lantern (also Jack-o'-lantern or Jack o' the lantern) is a decoration made from a hollowed out vegetable, nowadays usually a pumpkin, holding a candle or a similar light source. A design, usually either a cheerful or a monstrous face is carved on the front of the vegetable. It has become one of the best known and most popular symbols of Halloween.


A modern British jack-o-lantern made from a turnip.

Jack-o-lanterns probably originated in either Great Britain or Ireland. It has been suggested that they were used during the festival of Samhain, either as decorations which represented ghosts or as charms which were supposed to protect their owners from evil spirits. It has also been suggested that jack-o-lanterns originated as decorations for All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day and that they were supposed to represent souls in Purgatoty. Traditionally, jack-o-lanterns in Britain and Ireland were made from turnips or rutabagas (known as "swedes" in Britain), and are still sometimes made from those vegetables today.

The jack-o-lantern was introduced to North America in the early 19th century by immigrants from Scotland and Ireland. The larger pumpkin replaced the turnip as the vegetable which was commonly made into a jack-o-lantern in North America, its larger size means that it can be made into a more attractive lantern and it is also easier to carve.

In the United States, the jack-o-lantern gradually became associated with Halloween, rather than with autumn in general. An article from The New York Times of October 21, 1900 suggested using jack-o-lanterns as table decorations for Thanksgiving. The poem "The Pumpkin" by the 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) does not mention Halloween but describes jack-o-lanterns as part of childhood memories of autumn in the following lines:

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.[1]


The story of Stingy Jack is one about the origin of the jack-o-lantern. According to the story, Jack was a wicked old man who was not allowed to go to Heaven when he died but was not allowed into Hell either because he has cheated the Devil several times. The Devil ordered Jack to return to Earth as a wandering ghost, giving him a lump of coal to light his way. Jack placed the coal in a turnip, creating the lantern which bears his name.


The jack-o-lantern has become a symbol for the holiday of Halloween. One at the entrance of a home usually indicates that the members of the household celebrate Halloween and will give out treats to trick-or-treaters.

Children in the United Kingdom are still often told that jack-o-lanterns will protect them from ghosts and witches.

See also

Jack-o-lanterns partying in the light.


External links