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Samhain Countdown: Jack O’Lanterns

By Patti Wigington

One of the most enduring symbols of Halloween is the jack o’lantern. Carved pumpkins are a mainstay of the Samhain season, and for some folks, the more elaborate the carved design, the better! A jack o’lantern typically holds a candle (you can also get battery-powered tealights, which are a lot safer) which illuminates the carved out design. School children are alternately delighted and terrified by them — but how did the whole idea of carving up a pumpkin evolve in the first place?

The Turnip Issue:

Some scholars have claimed that the idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts. However, the Celts didn’t have pumpkins, which are a North American plant. They did have beets, turnips, and other root vegetables. Have you ever tried to hollow out a raw beet? It’s quite an experience, believe me.

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