Inicial > Cultural Celebrations > HALLOWEEN – 31st OCTOBER


How to Make a Jack O’ Lantern




Things You’ll Need:

  • Pumpkins
  • Carving utensils
  • Pattern
  • Light or candle

    Find the perfect pumpkin. You can find a pumpkin that is perfect for you at the pumpkin patch, fruit and vegetable stand, or grocery store. The pumpkin patch is an experience your child will love. You get to go out into the field, usually surrounded by corn stalks, and pick out your pumpkin. Often, a wagon ride will be provided so you can transport your pumpkin from the field to the payment counter. Your child will have the most fun decorating a jack o lantern, if she first gets to pick it right out of the patch.


    Find a pattern. You can find pattern books and carving kits at the grocery or drug store around Halloween time. Books will often have a bunch of different designs and the kits will include tools you can use to carve your pumpkin. You can also find patterns online. Some charge money to view and print the pattern, but there are several free patterns also. Let your child pick the design he or she wants. Realize that you will likely be the one to do most of the actual cutting, so don’t agree on anything you don’t think you can do.


    Use a tablecloth. Carving pumpkins can get messy, so to make clean-up a little easier, use a plastic tablecloth. You can also use newspaper under the pumpkin.


    Cut the lid out. Draw a line with permanent marker (pen or pencil can also work) at the top of the pumpkin to create the lid. You can help your child cut it out or have them do it themselves. Be sure to supervise.


    Scoop out the insides. Scooping out the insides can be lots of fun for your child. They can pull the slime off the seeds and set them to the side so you can bake pumpkin seeds later on. Your child can use his or her hands, a spoon, or the scoop provided with the pumpkin decorating kit to scoop the insides out.


    Copy the pattern. Have your child tape the pattern to the face of the pumpkin. Poke around the pattern lines with your cutting tool. You will need to help poke the pattern on to the pumpkin if a little child is creating the jack o lantern. An older child can probably do it on his or her own with supervision.


    Using your cutting tool or a knife, cut out your pumpkin design. Remove the pieces necessary to display your pumpkin face.


    Light up the candle or turn on the light. You can either put a little candle or a battery operated light inside the pumpkin to create the pumpkin glow. Light up the insides of your pumpkin and turn out the rest of the lights. Your child will be so excited to see the end results. They will also have had fun and helped in the process. Have fun creating your family jack o lanterns!




At one time, the term “Jack O’ Lantern” was used to describe a mysterious light seen at night, flickering over marshes. When approached, it receded, always out of reach.  The phenomenon is also known as Will O’ the Wisp and Ignis Fatuus.  The term, “Jack-of-the-Lantern”, first appeared in print in 1750 and referred to a night watchman or a man carrying a lantern. In pop legend, it is considered ominous and is often thought to be the soul of one who has been rejected by Hades; carrying its own hell coal on its wanderings.  However, its legend reaches far back into Celtic folklore, and is believed to originate with the story of an Irish drunkard named “Stingy” Jack.



Jack, an Irish blacksmith, had the misfortune of running into the Devil in a pub on Halloween.  Jack had drank a bit too much that evening and the Devil thought him easy prey, but the clever trickster made a bargain with the Devil.  In exchange for one last drink, Jack offered up his soul.  Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a sixpence that Jack could use to buy their drinks.  The Devil changed his form to make payment to the bartender, but Jack pocketed the coin in a bag with a silver cross with the knowledge that the cross would prevent the Devil from changing back.  Once in his purse, Jack only freed the Devil after he agreed not to claim his soul for ten years.

Ten years later, the Devil met Jack walking on a country road and told him that he was there to collect his soul.  Jack, feigned compliance, but asked the Devil if he would first climb an apple tree and get him an apple.  The Devil, having nothing to lose, climbed the tree, but as he reached for the apple, Jack pulled out his knife and carved the sign of the cross in the tree’s trunk. The Devil was unable to come back down until he had agreed never to claim Jack’s soul.

Some years later, Jack died and went to Heaven.  But he was dismissed from St. Peter’s gate because he was too much of an unsavory figure to allow in.  He then went to Hades, but the Devil was bound never to claim his soul, and so would not allow him to enter.  Instead, he sent him away with only a burning ember to light his way.  Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been doomed to roam the Earth in darkness ever since. The Irish began to refer to his damned soul and ghostly light as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’ Lantern.”



In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the Jack O’ Lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect Jack O’ Lanterns.

Hundreds of years ago, on Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts like Jack’s if they left their homes.  To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.  To keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts or prevent them from entering by frightening them away with the symbol of Jack’s damned soul – carved or painted faces on turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, and beets.

With the millions of refugees fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846-47, came their beliefs and traditions, which popularized Halloween & Jack O’ Lanterns nationwide in the U.S.  Turnips were not readily available in the Americas, but the pumpkin has made for an able substitute, and the Jack O’ Lantern is one of the most widely recognized symbols of our Halloween


Most holidays commemorate or celebrate something. But what about Halloween? What is Halloween actually a celebration of? And how did this peculiar custom originate? Is it, as some claim, a kind of demon worship? Or is it just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual where folks get together for parties, dress up in Halloween costumes and bob for apples?


The word itself, “Halloween,” actually has its origins in the Catholic Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, “All Hollows Day” (or “All Saints Day”), is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.  

One story says that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.

Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily parade around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

Probably a better explanation of why the Celts extinguished their fires was not to discourage spirit possession, but so that all the Celtic tribes could relight their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach.

Some accounts tell of how the Celts would burn someone at the stake who was thought to have already been possessed, as sort of a lesson to the spirits. Other accounts of Celtic history debunk these stories as myth.

The Romans adopted the Celtic practices as their own. But in the first century AD, Samhain was assimilated into celebrations of some of the other Roman traditions that took place in October, such as their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might explain the origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.

In Greek mythology, goddesses of the underworld were often used to invoke the Samhain. Popular Greek Goddess costumes portray Hecate and Medusa. Hecate was the most favored goddess by Zeus, and wandered the emptiness between the worlds of life and death looking for souls of the dead. Both were considered serpent goddesses, and their ancient dark legends spawned myths such as vampires, who fed off the living using venom and snake-like fangs. Ritualistic dress includes snake adornments and three headed masks. Today, Hecate is often referred to as the goddess of witches.

The thrust of the practices also changed over time to become more ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches took on a more ceremonial role.

The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840’s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

The Irish used turnips as their “Jack’s lanterns” originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite “holiday,” the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of Medieval prayer rituals of Europeans. And today, even many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.

© 1995-2010 by Jerry Wilson; Get Permission to Reprint this article.





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