The Enlightening History Behind Jack-O-Lanterns

Lance Geiger of The History Guy offered an enlightening take on the complex history behind the Halloween tradition of the Jack-O-Lantern.

It is October, and millions of American children will be participating in an annual tradition, traveling to a local pumpkin patch to choose the orange orb that they and their parents will carve into a Jack-o-Lantern. But where did the entire idea arise? And how long has it been going on?

Geiger continues to relate several different stories that could explain how the carving tradition came about although their veracity is questionable at best. The term means “lantern” and in some cases “man with a lantern” depending upon the geographic region of the world. Geiger further states that the pumpkin could have been secondary, a seasonal way to encompass the light.

In fact, a Jack-o-Lantern could simply mean a literal Lantern …a practical purpose also evolved. Methyl lanterns were quite expensive so people would hollow out root vegetables and over time people started to carve faces and designs to allow light to shine through the holes without extinguishing the ember.

Halloween Jack O Lantern History

Regardless of origin, pumpkin carving has become a seasonal tradition when autumn comes around, and it certainly sends a message.

So this very strange tradition has a very complex origin is it a light to lead you astray or a light to lead your way home is the jack-o-lantern a representation of an evil spirit or does it protect you from them? Was this idea of shoving a candle inside a squash derived from folk Tails or might the folk tales have been derived from the squash or turnip or mangle Wizzle or did it all start with swamp gas? …I’m happy to see the tradition is being derived from all of the above as well. And as of course, a sign that’s your house welcomes trick-or-treaters

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.