Why we carve pumpkins for Halloween

It’s that time of year again! Ghosts and ghouls come out to play on All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as it’s more commonly known, and we carve spooky designs into pumpkins to ward them off. It may be a fun activity for all the family, but why exactly do we carve pumpkins? The story starts in Ireland centuries ago…

Stingy Jack

In 18th century Ireland there was a man known as Stingy Jack. He was so named because he had a reputation for causing trouble and not wanting to pay for anything. The devil heard about his exploits; he didn’t believe anyone could be so mischievous or wicked, so decided to meet Jack himself. Jack knew that the devil would want to take him back to hell, so he asked the devil to join him for a drink before they hit the road. 

The devil obliged, and after many drinks, it was time to pay the bill. Jack persuaded the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for their tab; that way, they would be able to get away without paying when he transformed back into himself. Impressed, the devil once again obliged, but he had been fooled by Stingy Jack. Jack put the devil-coin in his pocket next to his silver crucifix, trapping him in his metamorphosed form. He refused to let the devil go until he agreed to leave Jack alone for ten whole years. Angered by Jack’s actions, the devil agreed, and the two parted ways.

The plot thickens

jack o lantern

Ten years after their first encounter the devil tracked Jack down again. He told Jack that he had upheld his end of the bargain, and now it was Jack’s turn to uphold his. Jack agreed, but asked for one small favour before they went to hell; could he have an apple for the road? Reluctantly, the devil once again agreed, and climbed a nearby apple tree to retrieve the requested fruit.

Jack hurried forwards to carve a crucifix into the tree trunk, trapping the devil in its branches. The devil was once again furious at having been outwitted by Jack. Just like their last meeting, Jack refused to let the devil out of the tree until he promised to not take him to hell. Reluctantly the devil agreed and he was freed to go on his way.

A spooky end

Carved Halloween turnip

Many years later, after Jack’s death, he was waiting to be let into heaven when he was stopped at St Peter’s gates. St Peter wouldn’t let him enter heaven on account of his bad deeds in his mortal life; Jack was instead sent to meet the devil, however, the devil also turned him away. As the devil had promised him all those years ago – he wasn’t allowed into hell. Jack’s soul was trapped to wander the world for all eternity. The devil gave him a lit lump of coal to carry around with him through purgatory; Jack put it in a hollowed-out, carved turnip to light his way. 

Irish families adopted the carved turnip at the time of Halloween, when the veil between the worlds was thinnest, to scare Jack away from their homes. Irish immigrants carried on the tradition in America, only instead of using turnips they decided to use the orange gourd-like fruits that were found in abundance; pumpkins! It is thought that the name “jack-o-lanterns” comes from Jack’s spooky tale, and even today we still carve pumpkins with chilling designson them in time for Halloween.

Before you go…

Do you have any creepy tales that you like to tell at Halloween? Or perhaps you’ve got a spooky pumpkin design to share with us? We’d love to hear all about it on our Facebook page!

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