The first jack-o'-lantern was a turnip.
Kind of freaky. I'm told that the origin is based in an Irish folktale about a guy named Jack. It goes something like this...
Jack-o'-Lantern (from Ireland)
A rather nasty man named Jack tricks the Devil into climbing an apple tree.
How do you trick someone into climbing an apple tree? Seriously. I can understand tricking someone into a closet or a cave. But up a tree? Just sayin'.
Jack then carves crosses on the tree so the Devil can't climb down.
Um, dude, jump.
He bargains: I'll set you free if you won't take my soul when I die. The Devil agrees.
Imagine how much mocking the Devil gets back home for this. Picture Beelzebub and Mephistopheles hanging out by the water cooler after a tough day of data entry (in Hell, there's lots of data entry to do), saying, "Did you hear about the Devil getting stuck in that tree? Why didn't that dude jump?"
When Jack dies, he tries to enter Heaven, but he'd been so wicked that St. Peter says no.
I'm thinking Jack's plan had a few flaws...
He then tries to enter Hell, but the Devil keeps his promise and bars his way. Instead, the Devil tosses him a burning ember from the flames of Hell to light his way as he wanders for all eternity.
Aww, that's almost nice. Wait -- how does he catch the ember? Ouch.
Jack places the ember inside a hollowed-out turnip to preserve it, and then he wanders the earth in search of a place to stay. He's wandering still.
Cue the spooky music.
Today people carve jack-o-lanterns to ward away spirits like Jack.
And because no one really knows what else to do with pumpkins. Don't tell me pies. I've seen people bake pumpkin pies. Pumpkin pies are made from canned goop.
Wishing you all a happy Halloween!
(For more fairy tales and folklore with commentary, click here.)