Of course, many people herald Halloween as an American festival of ghosts and ghouls, but most of the activities associated with this time of year are rooted in European folklore and tradition. For example, the pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern, is of course an American introduction, but it quite literally has its roots on Europe, where people have been carving turnips and other root vegetables for centuries, to ward off evil spirits. In 2015, the United Kingdom was in pumpkins shortage due of a wet weather. As a result, some British trick-or-treaters were greeted at the doorstep on October 31 not by a carved pumpkin, but by a carved turnip, and it is (i’m sorry for pumpkin-proud Americans) the original jack-o’-lantern!
According to English Heritage, which manages over 400 of England’s historic buildings, monuments and sites, jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland, where people have been carving turnips and other root vegetables for centuries, to ward off evil spirits. According to the Irish legend, there was an actual man named Jack, who was “cursed to spend all of time roaming the earth with only a burning coal (inside a carved out turnip) to light the way, as his punishment for trying to trick the devil.”
A few hundred years ago, it seems that this story induced people across the British Isles used turnips, or sometimes beets or potatoes, to make their own versions of these lanterns – carving scary faces into them and placing them near doorways or windows to frighten away Jack and other wandering evil spirits.
During the 19th Century, immigrants to the USA took these traditions with them, and discovered that pumpkins, the native American fruit, are far easier to carve into elaborate faces and shapes, and make perfect jack o’lanterns, that dominates Halloween imagery still today.