When you think of the typical jack-o’-lantern, you think of a big, round orange (or white) pumpkin. Perhaps the gourd has a smiling, toothy grin carved into its flesh or maybe a Halloween scene with a cat or a witch. But one thing remains consistent: A jack-o’-lantern is a pumpkin.
But actually, the first jack-o’-lanterns weren’t made from the big, orange squash we know and love today. They were actually made from turnips. And the resulting smiling faces are beyond spooky.
According to History.com, the jack-o’-lantern took shape in Ireland around the tale of Stingy Jack, who tricked the devil in to rejecting his soul twice through trickery and stinginess (staying true to his name). When Jack died, his unsavory character made him unacceptable for heaven, and the devil also would not admit him in to hell. Instead, the devil gave him a piece of coal to travel through the dark night for all eternity. Jack put the piece of coal in to a carved-out turnip to make a lantern to light his way. The Irish called this ghost “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack o’Lantern.”
To ward off Stingy Jack and other malicious spirits, the Irish would carve their own jack-o’-lanterns made from turnips, beets, and potatoes. And they’re way creepier than the carved pumpkins that are common in North America today, thanks to the turnip’s tougher skin.
So how did pumpkins become jack-o’-lanterns? When Irish immigrants came to the United States, they found that this gourd was simply a better vessel for their illuminating Halloween decorations, and the pumpkin’s use became increasingly widespread. For this and more spooky things you didn’t know about Halloween, click here.