People have been making jack o’lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish story about a man called Jack who invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, and managed to convince the Devil to transform himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks.
As soon as the Devil transformed himself into a coin, Jack put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, so that the Devil could not change himself back into his original appearance. Jack eventually freed the Devil in exchange for the promise that he would not revenge for one year and that, if Jack died, he would not ask for his soul. The following year, Jack tricked the Devil again and convinced him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit. While the devil was on the tree, Jack carved a cross on the tree so that the Devil could not come down. Again, Jack had the Devil promise that he would not try to revenge for ten more years. A short time after, Jack died. According to the legend, God didn’t grant Jack entrance in Heaven. Also the Devil, still very irritated by the tricks Jack had played on him, didn’t grant Jack entrance in Hell. The Devil sent Jack to wander into an eternal dark night, with only a burning piece of coal from Hell to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and they say he has been wandering ever since. The Irish people referred to this legend and to Jack as “Jack of the Lantern,” later simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
The tradition of carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them on window sills or near doors to scare Jack and other wandering evil spirits originally spread in Ireland and Scotland, and later immigrants brought the tradition with them to the United States. There they discovered that pumpkins, a vegetable that could be found only in America, could make much better jack o’lanterns, and that’s why today people carve pumpkins instead of turnips at Halloween!