You and your ancestors have used the phrase of ‘jack-o-lanterns’ for decades. It does have a very long history and was part of most people’s lives.

The original meaning in the 1660s was for a man with a lantern or a night watchman. By 1700s, it referred to mysterious light seen at night along marsh and swamp areas. These were ‘ghost lights’ with the name also of jack-o-lanterns, fairy lights or fool’s fire. These lighters were from the decomposing of plant matter from heat as they oxidized.

Yet people attached stories, especially in Ireland, with these mystery lights and used the name of ‘Jack’ for a fellow having to deal with the devil who was after Jack’s soul. So the name ‘Jack-o-lantern’ was used and brought to America with the immigration of Irish residents.

In America, pumpkins were plentiful and became the perfect lantern. Kids later craved crude facings into the pumpkins and by the 1860s, Jack-O-Lanterns were used for these scary pumpkins. By the 1890s the craved pumpkins were used in windowsills and front porches as decoration. People over the years have gotten very creative in their designs.

So you see a tradition begun for unusual reasons in Europe becomes popular in America because of Irish traditions.

Photos: Jack-O-Lantern in the swamp and Jack-O-Lantern on a porch.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Halloween Photos

Costumes over the Decades at Halloween

Scary Family Surnames

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