The history of the Jack-O-Lantern

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

Here is how pumpkins got their smile…

For one reason or another, pumpkins have captured the imagination of many people around Chewelah during Halloween time. But isn’t this kind of weird? What other holiday features carved up vegetables on your front porch? When did we get to this point where pumpkin carving is socially acceptable?

The carving of vegetables into lanterns has been common practice for thousands of years, and gourds were one of the first plants farmed by humans. The Maori carved lanterns over 700 years ago and the Maori word for gourd also describes a lampshade.

But what about pumpkins? And the whole carving a face thing? Blame it on the Irish.

Around the 19th Century, turnips or mangel wurzels were hollowed out to act as lanterns and were often carved with grotesque faces. They were used on Halloween in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Halloween’s origins have been somewhat controversial, but what can be proven is it being based on All Hallows’ Eve followed by All Saints Day on Nov. 1.

By the 7th Century All Saints’ Day was celebrated annually throughout Christianity. Orthodox churches celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost, and Roman Catholic churches celebrated on May 13. This was probably changed because nobody likes to go trick-or-treating in the rain. There is even further confusion because the Irish world used to celebrate the harvest in April, and the Germanic world celebrated the harvest in November. So, the two Celtic origin points seem to be at odds with one another.

(The Catholic Church changed the date to Nov. 1 in the 8th Century. There is no real proof this was done to appease Pagan likings, since nothing is really known about the Pagan festival for the harvest at that time, except that it marked a change of season. Christianity was in the northern Celtic region for at least 300 years before the change of date, so there is no indication that Rome was concerned about a pagan holiday. One scholar suggests it was so pilgrims to Rome could be fed more easily since it was harvest season. Either way, the contradictions in the time of festivals doesn’t seem to support the Pagan appeasement theory. Since this story is being written by a Catholic dude, let me just say, seems like the church is always concerned about feeding people at church functions.)

The lanterns were originally said to represent supernatural beings or spirits to ward off evil spirits – because this is the Irish and Scottish we’re talking about here and they have some weird quirks. I mean, these are the same people who say banshees exist and have you seen the banshee in Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” Yeah I still can’t sleep at night. Thanks Disney.

On Halloween in 1835, the Dublin Penny Journal wrote a long story on the legend of the “Jack-o’-the-Lantern,” and in 1837, the Limerick Chronicle refers to a local pub holding a carved gourd competition and presenting a prize to “the best crowd of Jack McLantern”

In America, which takes everything the world has for culture and supercharges it, there’s the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, written by Washington Irving, that shows the Headless Horseman having a pumpkin or Jack O’ Lantern in place of his head. The first application of the term carved pumpkin was seen in the Americans in 1834. The carved pumpkin, however, represented the harvest season long before it became a symbol of Halloween.

The story of the Jack-O’-Lantern comes in many different forms in Western Europe, so much so that in Switzerland, children will leave out bowls of milk or cream for mythical house spirits called Jack O’ the Bowl.

So it’s Santa without the gifts and more ghosty, we suppose.

Many towns, including Chewelah have held the world record for the number of pumpkins on display.

Trick or treating occured as early as 9th Century Celtic Britain and would eventually become part of Christian celebrations known as Old Hallows Eve before All Saints Day. The costume custom began in France during the 14th and 15th centuries.

In Britian, poor people would visit the houses of the rich and receive pastries called soul cakes, in exchange for promises to pray for the homeowners’ dead relatives. In Scotland and Ireland, meanwhile, young people would visit their neighbors’ houses and sing a song, recite a poem or perform another sort of “trick” before receiving a treat of nuts, fruit or coins.

Trick or Treating wasn’t used as a term until 1920s in America and has since become all the rage on Oct. 31.