Q:

What is the origin of the jack-o-lantern?

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Quick Answer

Although the origin of the jack-o-lantern carving is uncertain, gourds were used in the carving of lanterns hundreds of years ago. It is believed that the carving of jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland.

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What is the origin of the jack-o-lantern?
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Full Answer

Although the exact date of the first jack-o-lantern is unknown, the Maori used gourds for the carving of lanterns more than 700 years ago.

It is widely believed that the original carvers of jack-o-lanterns in Ireland used beets, turnips and mangelwurzel. In parts of the Scottish highlands, the time between October 31 and November 1 was known as Samhain. During this time, it was believed that fairies or spirits were especially active. Others claim that jack-o-lanterns were associated with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day and were representative of Christian souls residing in purgatory.

In folklore, the jack-o-lantern is believed to be named after a blacksmith named Stingy Jack who, according to legend, tricked the devil into purchasing drinks for him. Sometime later, upon Jack’s death, Jack was unable to enter into heaven or hell and was told to return to earth. In order to light his way in the darkness, the devil apparently threw Stingy Jack a burning ember, which he placed into a carved-out gourd. As the legend of Stingy Jack grew in Ireland and Scotland, residents purportedly would carve scary faces into turnips or potatoes and place them near doors or windows in hopes of preventing Stingy Jack and other evil spirits from entering their dwelling.

As of 2015, the jack-o-lantern is the most widely recognized symbol of Halloween.

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