Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?
The name "jack-o'-lantern" is of British origin and dates from the 17th century, when it literally meant "man with a lantern" (a night watchman). It was also a popular nickname for the natural phenomenon known as ignis fatuus (fool's fire), or "will o' the wisp" — those mysterious, flickering blue lights seen occasionally over wetlands at night and associated in folklore with mischievous ghosts or fairies.
By the early 1800s, "jack-o'-lantern" had also become the more popular name for a homemade object originally known as a "turnip lantern," described by Thomas Darlington in his 1887 volume The Folk-Speech of South Cheshire as "a lantern made by scooping out the inside of a turnip, carving the shell into a rude representation of the human face, and placing a lighted candle inside it." For Catholic children it was customary to carry turnip lanterns door-to-door to represent the souls of the dead while begging for soul cakes on Hallowmas (All Saints Day, Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). They were also carried by parading celebrants on Guy Fawkes Day (Nov. 5).
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