October is the month in which we ‘grow your own’ gardeners harvest our pumpkins and winter squashes, yet for children they look forward to Halloween; a time for trick or treating round the streets in fancy costumes dressed up as ghouls, ghosts and witches.
Many homes will have pumpkins carved into monstrous faces adorning their windowsills with a small candle flickering away inside, highlighting the monstrous image. But how and where did the connection of pumpkins and Halloween first begin? When did they first go hand in hand?
Well, according to old Irish folklore, the story first starts in Ireland with a man named Stingy Jack!
As legend goes, Stingy Jack had a run in with the Devil. Jack asked the Devil to have a drink with him but he had no money so he tricked the Devil to turn himself into a coin in order to pay for the drinks. Stingy Jack, being a smart man, then placed the coin next to a silver cross in his pocket. The Devil was then unable to return back to his normal form. Eventually, Jack freed the Devil but before he did so Jack made him promise that he would not bother him for at least a year and in the event of Jack dying the Devil would not claim his soul. Over the next few years, Stingy Jack continued to play tricks on the Devil until his death.
Because God didn’t want such a character in heaven he refused him entry and because the Devil had also promised never to take his soul back to the underworld, Jack was in limbo. The Devil sent Jack off into the night to wonder the Earth forever with a burning piece of coal as a warning to others of what their fate may be if they attempted to cross him!
Jack apparently then came across a turnip (this was in fact the name given to a swede), carved it out and placed the piece of coal inside and a makeshift lantern was born. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as ‘Jack the Lantern’ which was then narrowed down to ‘Jack-o’-Lantern’ as we know him today.
The Irish used this folklore and carved scary faces into turnips, potatoes and swedes, these being the staple vegetables at the time. These vegetable faces were then placed in windowsills and doorways across their homes to ward off the evil spirits and send Stingy Jack on his way.
Irish immigrants then took this tradition across the pond to America where pumpkins, being widely available across the land, replaced the turnips and a variety of pumpkin named ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ has been associated with Halloween ever since! So legend has it that we have the Irish and Americans to thank for this yearly tradition.