Bright glowing eyes and a toothy grin are commonplace when perched upon porches on Halloween night, with the tradition of carving a face into a fruit or vegetable dating back thousands of years to a Celtic festival called Samhain. According to a National Geographic article, these glowing fruits and vegetables were used as a practical version of expensive metal lanterns during that time period.
The name “jack-o’-lantern” has several origin stories. One comes from 17th-century Britain, where people called unfamiliar men by the name of Jack, so night watchmen became “Jack-of-the-lantern.” Another origin comes from 18th-century Ireland, where a folklore spread about Stingy Jack, who would make deals with the devil, landing him trapped wandering the Earth with a carved, lit turnip to guide him.
Originally, as reported in a History.com article, turnips and beets were gutted and carved to resemble human faces. It was not until immigrants came to America that they realized that pumpkins, which are native to America, were ideal for carving jack-o’-lanterns. Thus, carving pumpkins became a Halloween tradition for many.
In 1825, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving depicted the Headless Horseman holding a blazing jack-o-lantern, which popularized jack-o’-lanterns, making them a Halloween staple.
This year, Statista reported that 146 million Americans plan to carve a pumpkin as part of their Halloween celebrations. Pumpkin carving contests have even earned their own TV shows such as “Outrageous Pumpkins” and “Halloween Wars.”