Although pumpkin faces are associated with Halloween, they have their roots in Celtic culture.
Halloween itself was thought of as having originated from the Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain was celebrated by the ancient Celts as the end of summer. It was their version of the New Year’s Day.
The end of summer was only a celebration of harvest, the Celts believed that the souls of those departed were closest to the living world during Samhain and this was therefore the best time to contact departed love ones.
During the spread of Christianity to the Celtic regions, this festival was eventually transformed to become modern day Halloween. This was thought of as a way in which the Christian church sought to demonize pagan religions.
The Celts passed on their culture by word of mouth and the key figures in this progress were wise old women, also known as witches. In order to destroy the Wiccan beliefs, the church targeted these witches especially and in time to come, witches became as synonym for evil, hex spouting hags. This popularized image is probably as well associated with Halloween as the pumpkin face is.
The origins of the pumpkin face lie somewhere between the traditional folklore and the advent of Christianity to the Celtic population. The pumpkin face, also known as Jack O’Lantern is thought to come from a Irish Christian folklore.
Jack Of The Lantern
Irish folklore tells of a man by the name of Jack also known as Stingy Jack. Jack was not only stingy, he was cunning as well. He invited the Devil for a drink and being Stingy Jack, he was unwillingly to pay f
or the drinks. Instead, he tricked the Devil into turning into a coin to buy the drinks.
Once the Devil turned into a coin, Jack placed a sliver cross next to the coin so the Devil could not turn back to his original form. In return for the Devil’s freedom, Jack had the Devil promised him that he would not bother Jack for a year and would not claim Jack’s soul if he died.
A year later, Jack knew his deal with the Devil was coming to an end, so this time he tricked the Devil into climbing a tree. While the Devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross onto the tree so the Devil could not down. Jack then made a deal with the Devil again. This time, the Devil was not to bother him for ten years and not claim his soul if he died.
But before the ten years was up, Jack died and the Devil did not claim Jack’s soul. However, God would not have someone such as devious as Jack admitted into Heaven either. With nowhere to go, Jack was sent out into the night with nothing but a lantern carved out of turnip with burning coal to light his way. Jack was made to roam the Earth ever since. The Irish referred to him as Jack of the Lantern, this is later simplified to become Jack O’Lantern.
During Samhain festival, the Celtic people would then carve lanterns like the one described in the folklore using large local vegetables like turnips and beetroot to welcome their deceased loved ones and also to protect against malevolent spirits. As Samhain came to be Halloween, the people continued to carve vegetable lanterns as they did before.
In the 1700s, the Irish and Scottish settlers who arrived in America brought this tradition with them. Traditional beetroot and turnips were not readily available so they turn to American alternatives, and one of these was to be pumpkins.
Pumpkins were readily available in America, and they were large and relatively soft, making it easy to carve. Pumpkins served as such a wonderful alternative that they eventually became the norm for carving lanterns.
These pumpkin lanterns eventually evolved to take on faces like the modern Jack O’Lanterns that you see today.