Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns Were Originally Made From Turnips. They Were Absolutely Terrifying

January 15, 2021

Jack-O-Lanterns come from Irish folklore and the original was a far cry from the cute and fun Halloween decoration we know today.

The original folklore version of Jack-O-Lanterns was actually terrifying. They were carved from turnips instead of pumpkins.

halloween turnips
Credit: The Museum of Country Life

The name, Jack-O-Lantern, comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. As the tale goes, Stingy Jack invited the devil for a drink. He fooled the devil a couple of times, but when he died, God wouldn't allow him into heaven and the devil wouldn't allow him into hell.

He was instead sent into the eternal night, with a burning coal inside a carved-out turnip to light his way.

halloween turnips
Credit: National Museum of Ireland

People in Ireland and Scotland began to make their own versions of Jack's lantern by carving grotesque faces into turnips, potatoes, and beets, placing them beside their homes to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits.

When the Irish and Scots immigrated to America, bringing the tradition with them, they found that pumpkins, native to America, made perfect fruits for carving.

Thank goodness.

Source: Irish Central

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