As might be deduced from the “o” in “jackolantern,” the now American tradition of carving pumpkins and placing candles inside, started in Ireland. What you may not know is that the practice originated with turnips and potatoes in the old country, to provide a mythical wandering and nasty spirit, “Jack of the Lantern,” with a well-lit path so he would keep on moving, and not stop to cause trouble in the villages.
The story seems naturally rooted in the pagan, autumn holiday of Samhain (meaning “Summer’s end”), which was thought to be the time of year that the boundary between the living and the dead was the most porous. The Catholic church later appropriated the lore, and added a dash of hell and purgatory to the story of Jack, for good measure. Today, in the United States, the jackolantern is the most common spectacle associated with Halloween.
So, bad spirits, keep on truckin’ and Happy Halloween to all!