The Frightening History Behind One of America’s Most Popular Traditions


The history behind pumpkin carving is unknown to many but is very dark. Erik Witt, freshman, said “Although it is not a tradition for my family, carving pumpkins is popular for many families but I don’t think people know how it started.”

Caroline Simon, Staff Writer

During the month of October, you can spot carved pumpkins on almost every front porch illuminating the houses for trick or treaters. It’s a common tradition for many families to indulge in, but where did it start?

The name jack-o’-lantern came from an old Irish folktale of a man called Stingy Jack. During the story, Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him but Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay. He convinced the devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the drinks. Once the Devil turned into a coin, Stingy Jack placed him in his pocket which contained silver coins. These silver coins prevented the devil from turning back into his original form. Jack did eventually free the devil but only under one condition. He made the devil promise that he wouldn’t bother him for the next year, and if he died in this time period, that the Devil wouldn’t be allowed to claim his soul. The next year, Jack tricked the Devil once again. He convinced him to climb into a tree to pick fruit. While the Devil was in the tree, Stingy Jack carved a cross into the bark of the tree. This prevented the devil from coming down until he promised to leave Jack alone for the next ten years. Once Jack died, God would not let such a despicable human into heaven and the Devil was mad at Jack for the tricks he had played on him so he was not let into hell. Jack was sent into the dark abyss with only the light of coal to help guide him. Jack put a piece of coal into a hollowed out turnip and has been roaming the world ever since. The Irish then began calling him Jack of the Lantern, which was then shortened to jack-o’-lantern.

Sammy Hallacher, freshman, said, “I think that jack-o’-lantern carving started with carving something other than pumpkins, maybe watermelons or gourds.”  In fact, the Irish started carving turnips or potatoes with scary faces and placed them in the windows to scare away Stingy Jack. In England, they carve large beets instead. When people immigrated to America they brought this tradition with them. These immigrants then found America’s native fruit, a pumpkin, to carve their designs.

Since then, the designs carved into pumpkins have become more fun and up to the creative liberty of the carver. Freshman Nick Letwin is excited to carve pumpkins this year because “it is an experience I get to share with my family and I like carving cool designs.”