A very popular Halloween tradition is to hallow out a pumpkin, carve in to its face, drop a candle and put the Jack-o’-lantern out the front door. Oh, yes and of course, to salt and roast the savory, savory seeds. Ever wonder why?
Hark back to medieval days when the threat of evil spirits was more of a concern. To commemorate the souls in purgatory large turnips were turned in to candle lanterns. These turnips had faces and placed in windows and steps to ward off the bad spirits. Treats were also left for the spirits otherwise there was a risk that they would play tricks on the livestock or worse.
Pumpkins replaced turnips in North America since they were more readily available and easier to carve in to.
What’s In A Name?
Ignis fatuus (Latin for “foolish” “fire”) also known as a corpse candle (and many other names) is the folkloric description of a ghostly light that often appears over bogs, swamps and marshes at night. The phenomenon resembles a flickering candle.
Another name for this spooky occurrence is Jack-o’-lantern.
Pumpkins and Halloween
In 1807 poet John Greenleaf Whittier described the act of carving a Jack-o’-lantern in his poem “The Pumpkin.” But ol’ Jack wouldn’t become a symbol of Halloween until 1866.
As Gothic and horror literature produced Frankenstein and Dracula the faces carved in to the pumpkins have evolved to match these and other symbols of Halloween: death, evil spirits, witchcraft, magic and mystical creatures.
And The Seed Bit?
We roast the pumpkin seeds because they taste delicious. Jeez.