From basic to complex, imagination is the limit when creating a jack-o-lantern. (Special photos)
One of the most popular Halloween traditions is the jack-o-lantern. From the basic “three triangles and a mouth” face to truly artistic creations, if you can imagine it, you can carve it — or get an artist to carve it for you. But how did this classic tradition first come to be?
Irish folklore tells the tale of Jack, an Irishman who met the Devil on Halloween night. Like most legends, various versions have their own spin on the way things really happened. Some say Jack was a shrew farmer who tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, then marked the tree with a cross, trapping the Devil.
Another version claims that Jack met the Devil whilst running from villagers from whom he had stolen. In exchange for his life, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a silver coin, which he would give to the villagers for the stolen goods. Jack convinced the Devil that the villagers would then fight amongst themselves for the coin, giving the Devil the opportunity to take their souls. The Devil agreed and turned himself into a coin, which Jack put in his wallet. However, Jack placed his wallet into his pocket, right next to a cross, and so the Devil was trapped and stripped of his powers.
Still, a final tale claims that Jack was a blacksmith who ran into the Devil in a pub. Drunk, Jack offered up his soul for one last drink, in exchange for the Devil paying for his drinks. Again, the Devil turned himself into a sixpence, and was effectively pocketed in Jack’s pocket next to a cross.
In every version, the Devil’s original intent is to collect Jack’s soul, but with wily cleverness, Jack prevents this and secures word that the Devil will never take his soul. But as life goes, eventually everyone must die, and in all three tales, Jack eventually makes that final journey. According to legend, Jack was too sinful to go to Heaven, but as he had also made the Devil promise not to take his soul, he was barred from Hell as well.
With nowhere to go, and no light to take him there, Jack had no options. The Devil tossed an ember from the flames of Hell to him, one that would forever remain lit. Jack placed the ember into a carved-out turnip, and from that point on, endlessly roamed the Earth in search for a final resting place. He then became known as the “Jack of the Lantern.”
As tale and superstition has evolved, it has been said that jack-o-lanterns are a way of protecting homes from vampires and the undead. But today, jack-o-lanterns have happily become more of a fun tradition, and a nice way to decorate front porches.
While original jack-o-lanterns were originally carved out of vegetables such as beets or turnips, pumpkins have become the most popular choice.
Here are some instructions for carving your perfect jack-o-lantern. Or, if carving is not your forte, we’ve offered some suggestions for dressing up those pumpkins in other fun and festive ways.
1. Consider your design or pattern when selecting your pumpkin. Pick one that’s large enough and shaped to accommodate the length and width of whatever design you’re going to carve. Make sure that it is able to stand well on its own.
2. Cut the top out of the pumpkin and clean out the seeds. When cutting off the top, try to angle the cut so your top won’t fall into the pumpkin when the cut is complete.
3. Next, trace your design onto the pumpkin and get ready to carve. A sharp, serrated knife or carving tool is your best choice. For stability, carve out the small pieces first, then work your way up to larger cutouts. Leave the cut pieces wedged in place until the end - this will provide more support during carving.
4. Now, you are ready to place a small candle in the bottom of your pumpkin. You may choose to cut the bottom off of the pumpkin, which will provide easier access to the candle.
NOTE: In order to make your pumpkin last longer, experts recommend sealing in moisture on cut edges by applying a coat of white glue or petroleum jelly. Another suggestions is to spray Lysol on the whole carving and inside the pumpkin to keep bacteria away. One more suggestion is to soak the pumpkin for a couple of hours in cool water that contains a little bit of bleach. Let it completely dry before lighting, and repeat the process throughout the season when the pumpkin begins drying out.