Halloween: pumpkins and Jack O'Lantern legend

During the Halloween period. Pumpkins are undoubtedly the most sought fruit by celebrants of this "spooktacular" event.

A banded mongoose plays with a Halloween pumpkin at a zoo in Chongqing, China, October 29, 2016. Picture taken October 29. REUTERS/Stringer
A banded mongoose plays with a Halloween pumpkin at a zoo in Chongqing, China, October 29, 2016. Picture taken October 29. REUTERS/Stringer

Indeed, they are the most significant and recurrent symbol that we see in homes or on the internet to remind us that the most macabre day of the year is coming. In fact, the pumpkin was not the most common fruit used from the beginning as a representation of this event, but other vegetables were used in its place: beets, turnips and potatoes were used to be carved just as you do now with the pumpkins. Pumpkins were discovered only later, towards the first half of 1800, when the Irish began to immigrate to America and discovered there that pumpkins were far larger and easier to carve.

Halloween was born in Ireland, initially to celebrate the end of harvests for farmers, on October 31st. During the festival the participants wore masks to protect them from the spirits and seemed that they used carved onions with embers inside to light their way. Nowadays, the night between October 31st and November 1st exist mainly to remember the dead and it is common to keep a carved pumpkin in front of the window, lit with a small candle inside. The reason for this custom comes directly from the Jack O 'Lantern legend. There are many version of this legend, but one of the most common tells that Jack was an old drunk man who used to make fun of everyone, even the Devil. It is said that the Devil came down to earth one day to take Jack's soul but Jack managed to trap him up on an apple and surrounded him with crosses everywhere. To come down the tree, the devil had to promise to Jack not to take his soul when he died and that was how Jack removed the crosses and the Devil could leave.

When Jack died, since his behaviour on earth was not good, it was not accepted in heaven nor in hell. His soul was then forced to wander in the dark, and Jack had to seek help from the Devil. He gave Jack a burning ember from hell to light his way. Jack took the ember and placed it in a carved turnip. From that day, Jack's soul continues to wander in the dark looking for a place to stay and pumpkins placed on house’s windows are a signal to make it clear to Jack that there, in those houses, there is no place for him.

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