ANN MASSEY O’REGAN tells us 13 strange things you probably didn’t know about the Jack-O’-Lantern for Halloween!
Jack O’Lantern Facts
1.) In 18th century Ireland a blacksmith known as Jack made a devil’s pact and on his demise, he was doomed to walk the Earth for all eternity. Afraid of the darkness, he pleaded with Lucifer to give him a light. Jack was given a single burning ember which he placed into a hollowed-out turnip.
2.) The Jack-O’-Lantern is believed to represent Christian Souls in purgatory and prayers would be said after the lantern was lit.
3.) During the pagan feast of Samhain, local communities would light a bonfire. To bring protection during the dark winter months, each family would take a burning coal from the fire and place it in a turnip which they would use to light the hearth upon returning home.
4.) In England such an object became known as will-o-the-wisp in the 1600s. A ‘wisp’ was a bundle of sticks that was lit to use as a torch.
5.) Punkie Night was a 19th century tradition in Somerset, England. On the last Thursday in October, children would walk through the streets carrying Jack- O’-Lanterns and sing “Give me a candle, give me a light, if you haven’t a candle a penny’s alright.’
6.) The Irish headless horseman known as The Dullahan would hold his own luminescent skull aloft as a Jack-O’-Lantern while searching for his next victim.
7.) In Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Jack-O’-Lantern was used in place of the severed head of the horseman. After Ichabod Crane encounters the headless rider, he disappears forever and all that was found was Ichabod’s hat and a smashed pumpkin.
8.) Ignis Fatuus is a ghostly marsh gas phenomenon that was also become known as will-o-the-wisp due or Jack-O’-Lantern and translates as ‘foolish fire’.
9.) The tradition of carving competitively can be traced back to 19th century Ireland and in the Limerick Chronicle of 1837, it reported on a pub in the city holding a competition for ‘the best crown of Jack McLantern.’
10.) A Jack-O’-Lantern would be lit and placed in the window of homes throughout Celtic regions as the light would reveal any vampires or undead roaming the night.
11.) During the feast of Samhain, it is said that if the candle in your Jack-O’-Lantern flickers, it is being touched by the ghost of a dead family member.
12.) The Jack-O’-Lantern or pumpkin is still used today as a method of divination and for contacting the spirit realm.
13.) The tradition of Jack-O’Lanterns made its way to North America along with Irish immigrants of the 18th Century. With the humble turnip not as easy to come by, it was discovered that pumpkins were more plentiful and easier to carve.