People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The term jack-o-lantern has been used in American English to describe a lantern made from a hollowed-out pumpkin since the 19th century, but the term originated in 17th century Britain, where it was used to refer to a man with a lantern or to a night watchman.
At the same time, jack-o’-lantern was applied to another kind of light. A flame-like phosphorescence caused by gases from decaying plants in marshy areas, also referred to as corpses candles, fairy lights, will-o’-the-wisps and fool’s fire. These lights were created when gases from the decomposing plant matter ignite as they came into contact with electricity or heat or as they oxidize. For centuries before a scientific explanation was available people told stories to explain these mysterious lights. In Ireland dating as far back as the 1500s, those stories often revolved around a guy named Jack. One popular story was about a man named Stingy Jack – often described as a blacksmith invited the Devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks out of his own pocket, and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to settle the tab. The Devil did so, but Jack skipped out on the bill and kept the devil-coin in his pocket with a silver cross so that the devil couldn’t shift back to his original form. Jack eventually let the Devil loose, but made him promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge on Jack, and wouldn’t claim his soul when he died. When Jack did die, God didn’t allow him into heaven, and the Devil didn’t let him into hell, so Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity. In Ireland, people started to carve demonic faces out of turnips to frighten away Jack’s wondering soul. When Irish immigrants moved to the U.S. they began carving jack-o’-lanterns from pumpkins, as they were native to the region. Halloween is based on the Celtic festival Samhain, a celebration in ancient Britain and Ireland that marked the end of summer and the beginning of the new year on November 1st. It was believed that during Samhain the souls of those who had died that year traveled to the otherworld and that other souls would return to visit their homes. In 8th century CE, the Roman Catholic Church moved All Saint’s Day, a day of celebrating the church’s saints, to November 1st. This meant that All Hallow’s Eve (or Halloween) fell on October 31st. Traditions from Samhain remained such as wearing disguise to hide yourself from the souls wandering around your home. The folklore about Stingy Jack was quickly incorporated into Halloween. Toward the end
of the 19th century, jack-o’-lanterns went from just a trick to a standard seasonal decoration, including at a high-profile 1892 Halloween party hosted by the mayor of Atlanta. In one of the earliest instances of the jack-o’- lantern as Halloween décor, the mayor’s wife had several pumpkins lit from within and carved with faces placed around the party, ending Jack’s days of wandering and beginning his yearly reign over America’s front porches.
Get in the Halloween Spirit with these Festivals
Blackwood Pumpkin Festival
Where: Mainstage Center for the Arts, 27 S. Black Horse Pike, Blackwood NJ
When: October 2nd
Details: Kids can paint pumpkins, take hayrides, build scarecrows and enter the pumpkin-carving contest. Enjoy live entertainment on four stages, yummy local food from local vendors and other festive activities.
South Jersey Pumpkin Show
Where: Salem County Fairgrounds, 735 Harding Highway, Woodstown NJ When: October 7th – 9th
Details: Get your fill on all things pumpkin at this annual celebration featuring pony rides, live music, fun contest and kid friendly crafts. Don’t miss the giant pumpkin pyramid, little miss & mister pumpkin show, doggie parade and plenty of delicious pumpkin goodies.
Where: Wagner Farm Arboretum, 197 Mountain Avenue, Warren NJ
When: October 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd, 28th, 29th, 30th
Details: Don’t miss the Wagner Farm Arboretum’s spectacular display of carved and lit pumpkins. You’ll find pumpkins carved into pirates, cowboys, popular characters and more. Wander through the “Secret Haunted Garden” if you dare, then warm up with a cup of cider or hot cocoa.
Harvest Moon Hayride
Where: Alstede Farms, 1 Alstede Farms Lane, Chester NJ
When: Friday & Saturday nights through October 29th
Details: Experience the magic of autumn at night with a cozy hayride under the stars. Navigate the Alstede Farms corn maze in the dark and puck a pumpkin by flashlight! Gather round the fire afterwards for cider,
hot chocolate and country music.