Carving Out a Happy Halloween

October 19, 2010

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns came from? Well, we did too. So we did a little research to learn more about his rather unique custom.

Where Halloween Began

First—let’s talk about where Halloween itself came from. Although many have heard of the Christian holiday “All Hallow’s Eve”, few may have heard of Samhain, a Pagan holiday that marked the official end of summer and celebrated its harvest. Druids also believed that it was a time when the veil between the living and dead thinned, and that those who had died would reappear—often in the form of witches and ghosts.

To combat this ghostly invasion, Celts would light bonfires and dress in costumes, hoping to confuse or frighten evil spirits.

Later, when Christianity took hold in Ireland and Scotland, the celebration became part of the All Saint’s Day celebration proclaimed in the eighth century by Pope Gregory III.

The Legend of Stingy Jack

The carving of pumpkins is believed to date back to the seventeenth century or earlier and stems from an Irish folktale about a man named “Stingy Jack.” According to the lore, Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him—but then refused to pay. Although stories differ, they all end with Jack roaming the earth with only the light that came from an ember in a lantern carved from a turnip.

The carrying of lanterns carved from vegetables on Halloween became a tradition. Turnips, potatoes, beets and rutabagas were popular in Ireland and Scotland; however, when many immigrated to North America in the mid-1800’s and their customs adopted, native pumpkins were used for the lanterns.

Pumpkin Facts

1. Pumpkins are native to North America and estimated to be up to 5,000 years old

2. Native Americans grew pumpkins for centuries, and eventually introduced them to Europeans arriving in the New Rold.

3. Pumpkins are actually fruits—not vegetables.

4. It takes between 90-110 days to grow most varieties of pumpkins.

5. The largest pumpkin is believed to have weighed nearly 1,150 pounds.



  • Keisha

    I love the patterns–and I’d never heard the Stingy Jack thing. Cool!

  • Sherry

    Thanks for the information, I will share it with my grandchildren and my Girl Scout Troop.

  • Dawn

    Enjoying your site Most interesting al the ideas apatterns. really loved looking at all the different maizes. wow what a lot of work .a-MAIZE-ing.Thanks

  • Jeff

    Stingy Jack was a mean old man who never shared a thing he had. When the davil came to collect his soul, Jack asked for one last drink. The devil agreed but when it came time to pay, Jack had no money. He asked the devil, can’t you turn yourself into a coin to pay. The devil did and Jack popped him in his change purse. The purse had a cross on it and so the devil was trapped!

    Jack made him agree to give him another year on the earth before coming to collect his soul. Without any choice, the devil agreed and Jack released him from the purse.

    A year later, Jack was walking down a dirt road beside an apple orchard when the devil appeared and told him he had come to collect Jack’s soul. Jack begged the devil to pick him an apple from the nearby tree before taking him to hell. The devil jumped up in the apple tree and, quick as a whistle, Jack whipped out his knife and carved a cross in the trunk of the tree. With the cross on the tree trunk the devil couldn’t climb down and Jack went whistling off down the road leaving the devil trapped in the apple tree.

    Time passed and Jack eventually died. He went to hell but, because of the tricks Jack had played on him, the devil refused to let him in. Too mean for heaven or hell, Jack was left to wander the earth. Before he left hell, the devil gave Jack an ember of hell fire to light his way. Jack carries that ember around in a hollowed out turnip (gourd / pumpkin) and is known as Jack O’ the Lantern (shortened to jack-o-lantern).

    • Betty

      Thanks Jeff! Cool story.

  • Carol

    Thanks for some great “new” infomation on pumpkins and the images to carve.

  • Jack Barnhart

    Pumpkin in Wisconsin just weighed in at over 1800 pounds this last week.

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