Who Was Halloween’s Jack-o’-Lantern?

The History Behind this Holiday’s Spooky, Eldritch Icon

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Spooky Halloween Jack o' Lanterns
Spooky Halloween Jack o’ Lanterns
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This article was updated on 10/11/2021.

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This Halloween season, like many that have come before, people far and wide will be carving Jack o’ Lanterns and putting their creations on displays. For this, farmers all over the country thank you. You likely know of Halloween’s Irish origin, but where did this festive fellow come from? Once you know, you can wow your family and friends with your expertise with holiday trivia.

Who are Jack-o’-Lanterns Named For?

Jack has been a generic term for a lad since the 1500s and because of this, it found its way into a number of children’s songs and rhymes. The English own the original use of the phrase jack-o’-lantern. During the 17th century, it meant a night watchman who carried a lantern as he made his rounds.

But as it turns out, jack-o’-lantern was also a name for bizarre, flickering lights that were seen at night lingering over wetlands or peat bogs and thought to be fairies or ghosts. Actually, it’s natural phenomenon that is known as ignis fatuus, or “foolish fire,” friar’s lantern, and will-o’-the-wisp.

Fast Forward to the mid-1800s

What is known as a turnip lantern became known as a jack-o’-lantern. Young boys fashioned these hollowed-out and lit-up root veggies and used them to spook people. One Irish legend in particular says that this use of jack-o’-lantern was named after a fellow named Stingy Jack.

Fun fact: One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.


This legend has it that Stingy Jack believed that he had tricked the devil, however in fact the devil had the last laugh. Ever vindictive, the devil condemned Jack to a lonely eternity wandering over the earth with only an ember of hellfire to light his way. Oy Vey! Jack’s lanterns were carved out of potatoes, turnips in Scotland and Ireland, but beets were the vegetable of choice in England. When immigrants brought along this custom with them to North America, for some reason pumpkins eventually became the vegetable of choice. But it makes sense; they are easier to carve.

Pumpkin carving taken to the next level

A More Sinister Jack o’ Lantern

There is also a more dangerous rather than spooky version of a jack-o’-lantern. A poisonous glowing orange fungus known as Omphalotus olearius is commonly known by the layman as the jack-o’-lantern mushroom! It’s found in wooded areas across Europe, this glowing growth forms clusters at the base of decomposing tree stumps. Don’t eat it; try a Shiitake mushroom growing kit instead.

There’s your daily dose of Halloween history. There’s a lot more to Jack o’ Lantern than most people think.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

The Case for National Soverignty

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Ineffective US/Mexico border wall
Ineffective US/Mexico border wall

This article was updated on 8/10/18.

National sovereignty has been a fundamental concept since mankind first began socializing and defining themselves into groups. It promotes and facilitates a structure of law, a common currency, an armed protection organization and a framework for the production and distribution of food.

Like anything else, the concept of national sovereignty can be used for good or evil. On one end of the spectrum witness a country like Switzerland. On the other end, consider Nazi Germany.

Case Study 1: The Porous US/Mexico Border

The border along the Rio Grande has long been a convenient gateway for smuggling operations. Today the commodity that gets a lion’s share of attention is human cargo, or, illegal aliens.

The political machine has been ineffective in establishing and implementing an effective policy to safeguard the border. Conservative Republicans favor strong control such as more agents and President Trump’s border wall.

Liberal democrats however, tend to favor an open-border concept. Parts leaders such as Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) see illegal immigrants as potential voters.

The effect of the influx of illegals from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is obvious-crime, overburdened schools, hospital emergency rooms used as primary care facilities and gang activities from the likes of MS-13 who may pose more of a threat that domestic gangs like Antifa.

MS-13 gang member
MS-13 gang member

It is clear that the problems (crime, drug wars, unemployment) that force these illegal immigrants to leave their home countries to sneak across the border pose a threat to the social structure and sovereignty of the United States. Many of these immigrants, even after having been given safe harbor, refuse to assimilate with the host country by learning the language and participating in the community. Taken to its extremes, the eventual outcome is a loss of national identity and culture.

Case Study 2: The Failed Socialist Experiment of Venezuela

For years the South American country of Venezuela enjoyed a windfall profit from the drilling and export of crude oil. An abundance of capital from a natural resource easily acquired made it easy for strongman Hugo Chavez to implement his socialist paradise.

Things went swimmingly for years, even Chavez passed the baton of party control to Nicolas Maduro. Then, everything began to unravel. Venezuela crude oil suddenly had two strikes against it. Modern drilling methods in North America made it easier for countries like the United States and Canada to get at the gold (so to speak) domestically, and Venezuelan crude is very sour (high sulfur content) making it harder to refine. The product of choice, as dictated by the market, is now a no-brainer.

So when the one national commodity dried up, so did the economy. The currency is in the toilet. The citizens are getting hungry and need somewhere to go. With the loss of national stability goes the nation’s sense of national sovereignty. The citizens disperse, often on foot, and enter their neighbor’s countries.

Brazil has been hard hit by this diaspora and their sovereignty is being brought into question as they harbor and care for their neighbors. “We’re very fearful this may lead to an economic and social destabilization in our state,” said the governor, Suely Campos. “I’m looking after the needs of Venezuelans to the detriment of Brazilians.”

One destabilization leads to another.

Case Study 3: European Immigration

Whether one agrees with the European Union’s concept of open borders or not there is no denial that immigration has been detrimental to individual countries and to the EU as a whole since 2014.

According to the National Review, “European Council president Donald Tusk admitted that most of the people coming in have no right to do so: ‘In most of the cases, and that is actually the case on the central Mediterranean route, we’re talking clearly and manifestly about economic migrants.’ He added, ‘They get to Europe illegally, they do not have any documents which would allow them to enter the European soil.’ In other words, these primarily aren’t refugees fleeing war, they’re economic migrants, who are coming in to countries along the southern Mediterranean that already suffer massive unemployment.”

Germany, the UK and France garner the most press about the problems that Muslim immigration is causing. The influx of immigrants over the past decade seem to have taken these countries by surprise although the result of lax policies should have been easy to predict.

Whenever immigrants refuse to assimilate with the host population and the immigrants go so far as to import their own law system (sharia law), the unfortunate and predictable result is the loss of national sovereignty.

What happens then? A breakdown of society and the framework of civilization as we know. You can certainly live under a different social paradigm, but do you want to?

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