We carve jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins around Halloween. People carve monstrous faces to hopefully scare kids approaching doors during trick-or-treat. Sometimes, they are friendly faces, or famous characters from movies, TV and books--like the stormtrooper one my husband carved in one craft pumpkin we have. And yes, you don't have to use the gourds you find at the supermarket or grown at pumpkin farms, you can use craft pumpkins found at craft stores, too. You can also paint pumpkins even. This is safer for children to do, rather than using casrving implements. They can use their own paints to paint cool faces or by using stencils, faces or scenes on the flesh of the pumpkin.
This tradition stated back in Ireland. A turnip was used then. The Irish carved these vegetables and left them on doorsteps to ward off evil spirits. But it did not become part of Halloween until 1866. That was in America and not in Ireland or Britain. There is no documented proof to substatiate that the jack-o-lanterns were ever part of Halloween before this date.
There is folklore behind the jack-o-lantern.In one version of the story, Stingy Jack was a miserly old man who runs into the Devil. He asks if the Devil would turn into a coin he could use to pay some Christian villagers he owed to. These Christians would fight over this coin, which in actually is the Devil. The Devil agreed, thinking how fine a joke this would be.
But Jack pockets him and there's a cross in the pocket, too. The Devil is stuck, unless he promises he will not take Jack's soul when he dies. The Devil agrees to the deal and is set free.
Jack finally dies. He goes up to Heaven, but the gates are closed to him. He has too great a stain on his soul for Heaven to allow him inside. And thanks to his agreement with the Devil, he is barred from Hell, too. The Devil tosses him a turnip and an ember made from Hellfire, and he tells Jack to carve the turnip and put the ember inside. With this lantern his only way to light his way, Jack wanders the earth searching for a resting place. Jack became known as Jack-o'-Lantern.
There are other versions of this Irish tale, even an African-American one. There's even one with the Grim Reaper in place of the Devil, who takes Jack's head to Hell with him. Jack uses a pumpkin to replace his head. No doubt, this is mixed up with the Headless Horseman story.
When you carve that pumpkin and place a lighted candle or bsttery-run one inside it, then stand on your porch and watch the costumed children wandering the street, helped by lit flashlight, think of one man doomed to roam the earth forever.
Will you take pity on him if he comes to your door?
Top sites to find jack-o-lantern carving stencils: http://is.gd/ghLAr