At the end of this blog are pictures of some awesome lighthouse Jack-o-Lanterns, but first let's find out the origin of this fun tradition. I'll quote from an article I wrote for Weatherwise Magazine last year for Halloween. The article was about the will-o-wisp and the old ghost lights in Great Britain that gave rise to our current Jack-o-Lantern craze. Those ghost lights were really glowing swamp gases from peat bogs and other wetlands, but as you can imagine, people thought otherwise in the old days before science could explain these phenomena:
“I’ll toss the coin to the villagers as payment for the things I stole, and they’ll greedily argue over who gets it. You can take their wicked souls for fighting.”
The Devil liked the idea and turned himself into a coin. Jack picked up the coin and slid it into his pocket. The duped Devil landed next to the crucifix and was stripped of all his power. Stingy Jack then struck a deal by promising to let the Devil go only if he swore never to take Jack’s soul. Thus, when Jack died years later he could not enter heaven, for he had been a thief and cheat all his life, nor could he go to hell, because the Devil would not take his soul. Jack’s unwanted spirit was forced to roam the earth in darkness. The Devil, perhaps taking a pity on Jack, gave him a small bit of fire from hell. Jack carved out a large turnip and placed the fire inside. When villagers saw the eerie light of Jack’s turnip lantern, they knew he was restless and wandering.
Eventually the Jack-o-Lantern became part of Samhain, a Gaelic festival to celebrate the end of the autumn harvest. The date chosen was the night of October 31- November 1, the halfway point on the calendar between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. In the rapidly waning daylight, bonfires were lit to ward off the darkness and the dead, who came back at this time to walk among the living. The ghost lights seen in the marshes and bogs and graveyards on chilly autumn nights were manifestations of departed friends and family members, as well as the ill-fated Jack-o-Lantern.
When the tradition of Stingy Jack and his turnip lantern was brought to America, a pumpkin replaced the turnip, since turnips here don't grow as big as in the old country, and pumpkins are plentiful. I'm rather glad for the switch; a turnip wouldn't be near as much fun to carve as a pumpkin!
If you volunteer for a lighthouse nonprofit group, think about having a "Lighthouse Pumpkin Carving" event. Kids would love it, and adults too. Prizes are always in order, as is cider and candy and cookies, along with tours of your lighthouse. Often, this a better choice for a family event with young children than a haunted lighthouse tour. Little kids get scared. Save the haunted lighthouse tours for older kids and adults.
And if, like me, you are mad for all things "lighthouse," carve your favorite lighthouse into a pumpkin this year.
Here are some beautiful lighthouse-carved pumpkins to inspire you!