This year’s Halloween will be on a Tuesday when you and a couple of friends will try to outdo each other in wearing the scariest outfits. Some will be wearing princess costumes and others vampire costumes. Apart from dressing up in Halloween costumes, this festival which has its origins in the ancient Samhain festival is characterized by other activities that include trick or treat and pumpkin carving.

So where did the term Jack O’ lantern came from?

This is a common question that you are likely to encounter in the following few days. However, Halloween is an event that has a long tradition.

The Jack O’ Lantern is a term used to describe a scary face usually carved into a pumpkin. The practice is not American in origin. It comes from an ancient Samhain festival where the Gaels would carve turnips or potatoes to prevent fairies from settling in houses and to ward off ghosts. The practice is Irish in origin.

The name, Jack O’ Lantern came from an Irish folklore tale where an individual named Stingy Jack tricked the devil twice. Tricky Jack asked the devil to have a drink with him. However, he did not have any cash on him and true to his name, he tricked the devil into transforming himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. However, Tricky Jack decided to keep the coin in his pocket close to a silver cross instead.

This prevented the devil from changing back.

Jack allowed the devil to change back under the condition that the devil would not claim his soul if he died and would not bother him for a whole year. The devil kept his promise.

The following year, Tricky Jack tricked the devil again - this time into climbing an apple tree. While he was still up, he quickly carved a cross on the bark of the tree to keep him from coming down.

He made the devil promise not bother him again for the next decade.

Jack of Lantern and burning embers

When he died, he was not allowed into heaven for his unsavory character. The devil would also not let him into hell and sent him on his way into the darkness. To light his way, the devil tossed him a piece of burning ember which he placed in a carved-out turnip.

The Irish would refer to Tricky Jack as Jack of Lantern. They made their version of the lantern to scare Tricky Jack and other spirits away.

Irish immigrants coming into America could not find turnips to carve scary faces, so they settled for pumpkins. By the 1920s the practice had spread across North America, and everybody was carving pumpkins at Halloween.