Who doesn’t love Jack-O-Lanterns? Ok, someone probably doesn’t, but what do they know?
A brief history of Jack-O-Lanterns, via The History Channel’s website:
People have been making jack o’lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o’lanterns.
Just one more example why it’s always worth learning the story behind a cultural tradition that has become pervasive. The knowledge makes it so much more fun and interesting.
These days, though, Jack-O-Lanterns are something of an art form. And, to my eye, it’s definitely a case where more is better.
Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI was the host the past four years to the annual Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. Last year they had this 1,187 behemoth in the mix.
This year, the event has moved to The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT. It’s up from October 23 – November 2nd. Some of it looks like this:
Obviously, there are a lot of different approaches to the Jack-O-Lantern aesthetic. There’s the traditional style, with eyes and big, toothy grin (or snarl). Sometimes with nostrils. There are all sorts of patterns you can trace on pumpkins and etch out to create glowing images of Frankenstein or the Cowardly Lion or the Pope or Bono or:
And then there are post-modern Jack-O-Lanterns where you have Jack-O-Lanterns within Jack-O-Lanterns as a commentary on the cyclical nature of the form and how the creation of Jack-O-Lanterns is also the consumption of the pumpkin which is its host…. Or something.
And then you get ones that re-envision the use of the pumpkin’s elements, with a special effect or two mixed in:
And on and on and on…and it all reminds me that I need to go pick up some pumpkins of my own. I like mishapen ones and ones that aren’t orange so that I can aim for different looks. I don’t get nearly as elaborate as most of the ones above, but I’ll post pictures if I do anything that feels share-worthy.