To distract wandering spirits from settling into their homes and farms, Celts once carved faces into turnips and set candles inside; this was a rudimentary form of today’s pumpkin carvings. Turnip lanterns lined roadways to light the way and also caution passing spirits.
Celts believed placing lit turnips outside would guide family spirits home; simultaneously, scary carvings repelled evil spirits.
There is also evidence that turnips were used to carve what was called a “Hoberdy’s Lantern” in Worcestershire, England, at the end of the 18th century. The folklorist Jabez Allies outlines other derivations of the name, “Hobany’s”, which is most likely derived from “Hob and his”, with other variations including “Hob-o’-Lantern”, “Hobbedy’s Lantern” and “Hobbady-lantern”.
A jack-o’-lantern (or jack o’lantern) is a carved pumpkin, turnip, or other root vegetable lantern, commonly associated with the Halloween holiday. Its name comes from the reported phenomenon of strange lights flickering over peat bogs, called will-o’-the-wisps or jack-o’-lanterns. The name is also tied to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a drunkard who bargains with Satan and is doomed to roam the Earth with only a hollowed turnip to light his way.
Jack-o’-lanterns carved from pumpkins are a yearly Halloween tradition that came to the United States with Irish immigrants.
In a jack-o’-lantern, the top of the pumpkin or turnip is cut off to form a lid, the inside flesh is scooped out, and an image—usually a scary or funny face—is carved out of the rind to expose the hollow interior. To create the lantern effect, a light source, traditionally a flame such as a candle or tealight, is placed within before the lid is closed. However, artificial jack-o’-lanterns with electric lights are also marketed. It is common to see jack-o’-lanterns used as external and internal decorations prior to and on Halloween.