One of the most popular group activities to gear up for Halloween is carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. But who’s Jack? And where did the name “jack-o’-lantern” come from?
There are many tales that claim to be the term’s origin. Historically, “jack-o’-lantern” referred to Ignis fatuus, known in Irish folklore as “will-o’-the-wisp.” According to urban legend, these mysterious illuminations, often near marshes, were thought of as souls rejected from hell. Science describes this as naturally occurring light, which can be explained due to the combustion of gasses when organic matter, such as a plant, decomposes.
Another popular story is that the name “Jack” in England was often used for someone whose name you didn’t know. So in the 17th century, if you saw a stranger carrying a lantern at night, that person would be referred to as a “Jack of the lantern,” which was eventually shortened to “jack-o’-lantern.” Parallel to this, an old Irish myth tells the story of Stingy Jack. The character who, after making a deal with the devil, receives a burning coal and uses it to make a lantern inside a hollowed-out turnip. The practice of carving faces into fruits or vegetables (commonly turnips) is a Celtic tradition dating back thousands of years. When Irish immigrants came to the US in the 19th century, they took these folk tales with them.
Making jack-o’-lanterns has become more intricate over time and has spawned a variety of competitions all over the US as part of Halloween traditions. This past weekend, BuzzFeed News attended three pumpkin-carving competitions in New York City: Manhattan’s Pumpkitecture and Washington Market Park competitions, and the “Flight of the Gourds” carving competition in Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. Here’s what we saw:
New York City–based architecture firms take part in this competition featuring extremely detailed pumpkin carvings. The fifth annual event, hosted by the American Institute of Architects at the Center for Architecture, took place in Manhattan on Oct. 28.