Every Halloween, the jack-o’-lantern’s soft, flickering glow illuminates porches and invites trick-or-treaters to come a-knocking — if they dare.
These festive creations are fun and easy to make crafts for the whole family. Although pumpkin carving is a fall tradition, many people are unaware of how jack-o’-lanterns began.
As the story goes, a wily Irish blacksmith named Jack was minding his own business, having a few drinks at a bar one Halloween night. He’d had a few too many when he looked up from his glass and saw the Devil standing there.
Rather unfazed and a little short on change, Jack offered the Devil his soul in exchange for the Devil buying him another drink by turning himself into cash. Once the Devil made himself into a coin, Jack pocketed him in a change pouch that had a silver cross on it, preventing the Devil from escaping. He later freed the Devil only after gaining his agreement to never collect Jack’s soul.
Upon his death, Jack's soul went to heaven but was denied entrance because of the dishonest way he lived. Hell wouldn’t take him because the Devil agreed never to take his soul.
The Devil did, however, give Jack an ember from the fires of hell to light his way through the lonely darkness of his afterlife. To protect the flame, Jack hollowed out a turnip and placed the flame inside. The legend maintains that Jack has wandered the afterlife in darkness ever since.
The Irish used to refer to the Jack of the fable as “Jack of the Lantern,” which eventually was shortened to Jack o’Lantern.
Because of the fable, the jack-o’-lantern became a symbol for a damned soul. On Halloween, Irish villagers were afraid that ghosts would wander back and want to inhabit their homes. To scare them off, they carved faces into hollowed-out turnips, put a fire inside them by coal or candle, and placed them in their windows. The jack-o’-lanterns were made extra-frightening by the faces carved into them.
When a great influx of Irish immigrants to America in the time of the potato famine, they brought their fables and traditions. Although the Irish were used to carving turnips, they switched to pumpkins because pumpkins were more plentiful in America. The tradition caught on, and now the jack-o’-lantern is a symbol that is less associated with damned souls and more recognized as a symbol of Halloween.
Join the Pumpkin Carving Contest as part of Royal Palm Beach's Rock-N-Fall Festival Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The Pumpkin Carving Contest will take place a 1 p.m. on Oct. 1 and is open to the first 100 participants. Rock-N-Fall Festival and the Pumpkin Carving Contest take place at Commons Park, 11600 Poinciana Blvd in Royal Palm Beach. For more information, visit royalpalmbeach.com.