Carving a ‘jack-o’-lantern’ out of a pumpkin is a well-known Halloween practice nowadays, but follow this tradition back to its roots and we come upon the human-faced vegetables used to ward off spirits as part of the Celtic festival of Samhain.
Samhain dates back thousands of years and marks the night when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead is the thinnest. People carved scary faces into turnips and other root vegetables to frighten away evil spirits.
Celtic Samhain traditions later merged with Christian traditions (including the festival All Saint’s Day) to become Halloween. The tradition of carving vegetables took to America where pumpkins were easier to grow and became the new jack-o’-lanterns.
The ‘jack-o’-lantern’ is attributed to an Irish folktale from the 18th century about Stingy Jack. He supposedly tricked the devil, leading him to be barred from heaven and hell when he died. Stories say his soul aimlessley wandered a world between the two, with only an ember of coal in his turnip lantern to light the way.