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Three jack-o'-lanterns illuminated from within by candles.

A jack-o'-lantern (sometimes also spelled Jack O'Lantern) is typically a carved pumpkin. It is associated chiefly with the holiday Halloween, and was named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o'-lantern. In a jack-o'-lantern, typically the top is cut off, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved onto the outside surface, and the lid replaced. At night, a light is placed inside to illuminate the effect. Jack o'lanterns can often be seen in houses and shops in most western countries during Halloween.

Contents

Pumpkin craft

Sections of the pumpkin are cut out to make a design, often depicting a face, usually menacing like a demon or devil. A variety of tools may be used to carve and hollow out the gourd, ranging from simple knives and spoons to specialized instruments, typically sold in holiday sections of grocery stores. Printed stencils can be used as a guide for increasingly complex designs. After carving, a light source (traditionally a candle, sometimes an electric light) is placed inside the pumpkin and the top is put back into place. The light illuminates the design from the inside. Sometimes a chimney is carved in. It is possible to create surprisingly artistic designs, be they simple or intricate in nature. But towards the end of the 20th century, artists began expressing every kind of idea they could imagine on pumpkins. Today, it is common to see portraits of political candidates, celebrities and cartoon characters. Pumpkin painting is also common, especially for children whose parents don't want them handling the sharp tools involved in carving.

The tradition of carving a lantern started in the UK. However it was traditionally carved from a swede or a turnip. They were carved on All Hallows' Eve and left on the door step to ward off evil spirits. An offering or, as we know know it, a "treat" would also be commonly left, as it was feared if you didn't the demons and spirits would fiddle with property or live stock (play a "trick"). Once the tradition moved to the USA it was adapted to the carving of a pumpkin as these were more readily available and easier to carve. The ritual of "trick or treating" was soon invented to re-create the coming of demons and ghouls on the night to dwellings requesting a treat (which is now traditionally given as candy)or a trick would be played. The demons and ghouls are now of course children dressed up to represent them.

Tradition

A traditional Irish halloween Jack-o'-lantern from the early 20th century on display in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.

Throughout Ireland and Britain, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede.[1] But not until 1837 does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern,[2] and the carved lantern does not become associated specifically with Halloween until 1866.[3] Significantly, both occurred not in Ireland or Britain, but in North America. Historian David J. Skal writes,

Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation. In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chronicles of British holidays and folk customs make any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns in connection with Halloween. Neither do any of the standard works of the early twentieth century.[4]

In America, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.[5] The poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was born in 1807, wrote "The Pumpkin" (1850):[6]

Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,

When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

Folklore

Pumpkin craft for Halloween.
Halloween Pumpkin

An old Irish folk tale tells of Stingy Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who uses a cross to trap the Devil. One story says that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn't get down. Another myth says that Jack put a key in the Devil's pocket while he was suspended upside-down.

Another version of the myth says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped. In both myths, Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which was his favourite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-Lantern.

There are variations on the legend:

  • Some versions include a "wise and good man", or even God helping Jack to prevail over the Devil.
  • There are different versions of Jack's bargain with the Devil. Some variations say the deal was only temporary but the Devil, embarrassed and vengeful, refuses Jack entry to hell after Jack dies.
  • Jack is considered a greedy man and is not allowed into either heaven or hell, without any mention of the Devil.
  • In some variations, God gives Jack the turnip
  • Jack tricks the Grim-Reaper into giving him eternal life, and in exchange, the reaper takes his head to hell with him. Jack then wanders the earth using a carved pumpkin for a head.
  • An African-American variant holds that Jack, here called Big Sixteen, actually killed the Devil and was later refused entry to hell by the Devil's widow.[7]

Despite the colourful legends, the term jack-o'-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the mid-17th century; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp.[8] In Newfoundland and Labrador, both names "Jacky Lantern" and "Jack the Lantern" refer to the will-o'-the-wisp concept rather than the pumpkin carving aspect.

Pumpkin carving world records and pumpkin festivals

For a long time, Keene, New Hampshire held the world record for most jack-o'-lanterns carved and lit in one place. The Life is Good[9] company teamed up with Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with life threatening illnesses and their families, to break the record. A record was set on October 21, 2006 when 30,128 jack-o'-lanterns were simultaneously lit on Boston Common.[10]

The world's largest jack o'lantern was carved from the world's largest pumpkin on October 31, 2005 in Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania, United States by Scott Cully . The pumpkin was grown by Larry Checkon and weighed 1,469 lb (666.33 kg) on October 1, 2005 at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association Weigh-off. The new record for largest pumpkin weighs in at 1,725 lbs (782.45 kg), grown by Nick and Kristy Harp. [11]

References

  1. ^ They continue to be popular choices today as carved lanterns in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the British purchased a million pumpkins for Halloween in 2004. "Pumpkins Passions", BBC, 31 October 2005. Retrieved on 19 October 2006. "Turnip battles with pumpkin for Hallowe'en", BBC, 28 October 2005. Retrieved 23 September 2007.
  2. ^ Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Great Carbuncle," in Twice-Told Tales, 1837:
    Hide it [the great carbuncle] under thy cloak, say'st thou? Why, it will gleam through the holes, and make thee look like a jack-o'-lantern!
  3. ^ Daily News (Kingston, Ontario), November 1, 1866:
    The old time custom of keeping up Hallowe'en was not forgotten last night by the youngsters of the city. They had their maskings and their merry-makings, and perambulated the streets after dark in a way which was no doubt amusing to themselves. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle.
    Agnes Carr Sage, "Halloween Sports and Customs," Harper's Young People, October 27, 1885, p. 828:
    It is an ancient Scottish custom to light great bonfires on Halloween, and carry blazing fagots about on long poles; but in place of this American boys delight in the funny grinning jack-o'-lanterns made of huge yellow pumpkins with a candle inside.
  4. ^ Skal, David J. (2002). Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. New York: Bloomsbury. pp. 32. ISBN 1-58234-230-X.   The earliest reference to associate carved vegetable lanterns with Halloween in Britain is Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), Chapter 8, which mentions turnip lanterns in Scotland.
  5. ^ As late as 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o'-lantern as part of the festivities. "The Day We Celebrate: Thanksgiving Treated Gastronomically and Socially," The New York Times, November 24, 1895, p. 27. "Odd Ornaments for Table," The New York Times, October 21, 1900, p. 12.
  6. ^ Whittier, John Greenleaf. "The Pumpkin".
  7. ^ Zora Neale Hurston, How Jack O'Lanterns Came To Be, Mules & Men, 1935
  8. ^ "Jack-o'-lantern," Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest citation is from 1663.
  9. ^ About Life is good
  10. ^ Michael Levenson and Kathy McCabe, A love in Common for pumpkins, The Boston Globe, October 22, 2006, p. B6.
  11. ^ "Largest Jack O'Lantern". Guinness World Records 2009. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records/natural_world/plant_world/largest_jack_o_lantern.aspx. Retrieved October 10, 2009.  

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