When we think of Jack-O-Lanterns, we think of bright orange pumpkins carved with ghoulish faces. In the Celtic Irish festival of Samhain, participants would carve faces into turnips to ward off evil spirits and to represent trophies taken from their enemies. The festival goers would carve their decorations the evening before Samhain on October 31.

In 17th century Britain, night watchmen would use what was available to create an illuminating lantern. A lantern could be made by carving turnips or beets and placing a candle inside. When the Jack-O-Lantern came to the United States turnips were not as available as they were in Britain. The pumpkin squash was available in abundance. Thus, the modern era of pumpkin lanterns entered American traditions.

Jack-O-Lantern in Folklore

Pumpkin carving of a cat

Stingy Jack

The Irish tale of Stingy Jack is one of deception and bargaining. The legend begins with a man named Jack. Jack was known for his manipulation tactics and drinking habits. One day, the devil came to take Jack. Jack, quick on his feet, asked the devil for a drink. The devil obliged, turning into a coin to pay for said drink. Soon as he did, Jack put him in his pocket next to a crucifix. Jack stated he'd let the devil out if he would leave him alone for ten years. Ten years passed and the devil came back to Jack. Jack seeing a chance, asked the devil to fetch him an apple in a nearby tree. The devil obliged, climbing up a tree when Jack carved a cross into the trunk. Jack told the devil to not come for him again, and the devil agreed. When Jack passed, his soul was forced to roam the world as an ember of lantern light. The tale of Stingy Jack is also known as Jack the Smith, Drunk Jack, Flaky Jack and Jack O' the Lantern.


The will-o-the wisp is an English folk-tale. The tale describes the fog light found above marshes, bogs, and swamps. The light is called a wisp, a bundle of sticks used as a torch. Therefore, translating the term to "The will of the torch". The will-o-the-wisp leads hopeful travelers to strange, sinister and impossible goals. It is believed the Will-o'-the-wisp is summoned by ghosts, spirits and pixies.

Joan the Wad

"Good fortune will nod, if you carry upon you Joan the Wad"
- English Folk Rhymes by K. Paul

According to the Cornish Folktale, Joan the Wad is the Queen of the Pixies. A pixie is a mythical creature described as a mischievous, pointed ear, ancient being. The wad in this myth refers to the Cornish term for a bundle of sticks. Joan lights the wad to cast light on the way to safety and good fortune.

Jack o' the lantern! Joan the wad,
Who tickled the maid and made her mad
Light me home, the weather's bad.

Pumpkin Fun

Carving a pumpkin

Pumpkin carving today has become a part of the Halloween celebration. Halloween is a time when friends and family come together. Nowadays, people even have pumpkin carving parties! Displaying jack-o-lanterns in windows, porches, and online has become a well known symbol of Halloween fun.

If you're carving pumpkins this year, be sure to check out these resources on how to carve a Jack-O-Lantern.

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