At the end of every October, the streets come alive and people across the world don their scariest get-up, ready to celebrate the spookiest of holidays. The pumpkin seems to be the global mascot for Halloween, but where did it come from? Why do we spend our evenings carving creepy faces into this gourd-like fruit?
Their proper name, Jack O’Lantern, comes from Irish folktale about a man nick-named ‘Stingy Jack’; the tale was bought over to America by Irish immigrants, who originally used large turnips and potatoes as a blank canvas for their carved creations.
The legend of Stingy Jack
According to the legend, Stingy Jack invited the Devil for a drink, but Jack (being stingy) didn’t pay for his drink; instead he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin; Jack used this to pay for his drink, but kept the money in his pocket next to a silver cross, so the devil couldn’t return to his true form. Eventually Jack freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for a year and that if Jack were to pass away, the Devil would leave his soul alone.
The following year, Jack tricked the Devil again; he asked him to climb a tree and gather fruit, but carved a cross in the bark so he could not get down. Jack made him promise not to bother him for the next ten years. Not long after, Jack died and as the legend goes, God did not want such an unsavoury figure in heaven and the Devil, upset by the trick Jack pulled would not let him in to hell and was sent away with nothing but burning coal to light his path.
Jack carved out a turnip and placed the coal inside and has been roaming the earth ever since. The ghostly figure was named ‘Jack of the Lantern’ later shortened to ‘Jack o’lantern’. People then began to carve their own versions of the Jack o’lantern with scary faces, placing them in their windows and doorways to frighten off Jack and any other evil spirits that should pass.
Naturally, when this tale was bought to the states, the larger pumpkin was anobvious choice for a Jack O’Lantern, and thus the symbol for Halloween was born.
When thinking about growing your pumpkin for next Halloween, plant it on the compost heap; pumpkins and squashes love the nutrients that compost produces.