Before we proceed into the days of everything Christmasy, please allow me one more Halloween-related post for the season. Let us talk about Jack-O-Lanterns. You probably know that the tradition comes from the Irish and was imported into America by immigrants. You probably also know that the Irish didn’t use pumpkins to create their Jack-O-Lanterns, since there were no pumpkins in Ireland at the time. They carved turnips, potatoes, etc. (The results are way more frightening than standard pumpkin Jack-O-Lanterns. Don’t you agree?)
You might even be familiar with the legend that inspired the creation of the Jack-O-Lantern. There is a figure in Irish folklore known as Jack, a man who managed to trick the Devil. Exactly what he tricked the Devil out of, or the means by which he accomplished it, vary depending on the version of the story you hear. When he died, Jack couldn’t get into Heaven because of his notorious sins, but the Devil, still holding a grudge, wouldn’t let him into Hell either. Jack was thus forced to wander the earth. He created for himself a lantern. Folks in Ireland in the olden days, when seeing Will-o-the-Wisp from a distance, would attribute the sight to “Jack of the Lantern.” If you know all that, you likely are aware that Jack-O-Lanterns were believed to frighten away evil spirits, especially useful on days like Samhain, when all manner of spirits were free to wander the world.
But even if you knew all that stuff already, did you know that Jack-O-Lanterns weren’t originally carved for Halloween in this country, but for Thanksgiving? It’s true. That’s why it’s perfectly fine to leave your Jack-O-Lanterns out for Thanksgiving, provided they haven’t rotted yet. (Solid ones tend to take longer to do this; plastic ones take longer still.) For that matter, stick a Santa hat on it and leave it out for Christmas! That’s what I do.