An original Jack O'Lantern c.1850. Exhibited at the Museum of Country Life in Mayo.
The History of the Jack O'Lantern.
According to Irish folklore, a man called Stingy Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity by the devil. A ghostly figure of the night, Jack walks with a burning coal inside of a carved out turnip to light his way. Irish folklore began to refer to this spooky figure as 'Jack of the Lantern' which then became 'Jack O’Lantern.'
We all know that Halloween started with the Irish festival of Samhain or 'All Hallows Eve', which then became known as Halloween. This was a time of year when the veil between this world and the next was at its weakest and spirits roamed the world. This legend is why people in Ireland began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving grotesque faces into turnips, potatoes and beets, placing them by their homes to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits and travelers.
Irish migrants in the 19th century brought this legend across the Atlantic where they discovered that Pumpkins were easier to carve than Turnips. So it’s to an Irish character called Stingy Jack that we owe the origins of the modern Jack O'Lanterns.