Carved Pumpkin or Jack-o-lantern is the most popular of all Halloween emblems. Halloween has always been associated with wearing scary costumes and masks, sharing ghost stories, throwing spooky parties, giving your guests a good fright, trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving for as long as it has been around. However, it originated from an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st, to honor the deceased relatives and friends. It was believed that the veil between this world and the other world was at its thinnest on this night and thus, it was considered the most magical night of the year.
The 'magic' element of Samhain night has filtered down to the present, along with the tradition of glowing jack-o-lanterns that were originally carved from turnips, pears or gourds. Burning lumps of coal were usually placed inside these jack-o-lanterns. Thereafter, they were set on porches and in windows, to welcome the spirits of loved ones and guide their way. They were believed to protect people from evil and malevolent spirits. With time, the coal was replaced by lit candles. When Europeans, especially those from Ireland, arrived in America, they came across indigenous pumpkins, which were much larger and easier to carve. Thus, they were substituted for making Jack-o-lanterns. By late 1800s, Halloween and pumpkin carving became popular with Americans too.
Legend of Stingy Jack
The legend of Jack O' Lantern goes back to hundreds of years in the Irish history. The original Jack O' Lantern was not a pumpkin, but a miserable, old drunkard who played tricks on anyone he could lay his hands on, including family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. As the story goes, one fine day, he tricked the Devil to climb up an apple tree. Once the devil reached up the tree, Stingy Jack placed crosses around the tree, so that the Devil was unable to come down. Only when Jack took a promise from the Devil that his soul would not be taken away when he dies, he allowed the Devil to come down.
After many years, when Jack finally died, he went to the bejeweled gates of heaven, where Saint Peter told him that he was mean and cruel and led a worthless life on earth. Jack reached hell, as he was not allowed to enter heaven. The Devil also kept his promise and didn't allow Jack to enter hell. Jack was scared that he would have to keep wandering in the unending darkness between heaven and hell, since he was not welcome anywhere. Jack asked the devil where to find his way in the darkness. The Devil tossed an ember from the flames of the hell to help Jack light his way. Jack kept the ember safely in a hollowed out turnip, his favorite food. From that day onwards, Stingy Jack roamed around on the earth without any place to rest, with his lit Jack-O' Lantern.
The Irish people kept the fable of Stingy Jack alive by hollowing out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets on All Hallow's Eve. They placed a candle in them, to ward off the evil spirits and keep the Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack-O-Lanterns. But later on, the Irish migrants discovered that pumpkins were much easier to carve than turnips etc. and switched over to pumpkin-carving. The modern day Halloween celebrations have improvised pumpkin carving beautifully. Pumpkin-carving activities are perused with great enthusiasm on Halloween and people of all age participate in it with keen interest and eagerness.