The Jack o' lantern has its origins in an Irish myth "Stingy Jack." Jack asked the devil to turn himself into a coin so Jack could buy them drinks. The devil did so but Jack put the coin next to his silver cross in his pocket so the devil could not harm him. And being stingy, Jack did not want to return the coin. Jack agreed to free the devil with the stipulation that the devil would not harm him for a year and that the devil would not take his soul.
The next year Stingy Jack convinced the devil to climb a tree to retrieve a piece of tasty fruit, but when the devil did so, Jack carved a cross into the tree so the devil could not come down. The devil agreed not to harm Jack for another 10 years so that he could climb down from the tree.
When Jack died, God would not allow Stingy Jack into heaven because he was not a good person and the angry devil would not let him into hell.
Jack was given a piece of burning coal from the devil's own fire to light his own way into the darkness alone. He carried the coal in a turnip with a carved out center. He was known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack o' lantern for short as he roamed the earth with his makeshift light.
A tradition began as people began to carve out their own turnips, rutabagas and potatoes, placing them in windows and doorways to protect themselves from evil spirits like Stingy Jack that roamed the world in the dark. In England the tradition was carved beets, but in the new world, our native pumpkin, carved with scary features and lighted, became the symbol to protect the homes from evil spirits and to light the way for the spirits of relatives and friends.
Halloween's origin is derived from an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain, when people donned costumes to scare off ghosts. Celebrated from sundown on Oct. 31 to sunset on Nov. 1, this was a celebration to honor dead relatives and friends. They believed that during this time, the thin veil of the living world and the dead was its thinnest. It is one of the oldest holidays in the world.
In the 8th Century, Pope Gregory III dedicated November 1 as All Saints Day. This was a day to honor all saints and martyrs. The night before was all Hallows' Eve which evolved into the word Halloween.
Halloween is celebrated in other countries such as Mexico's Day of the Dead, when deceased relatives are honored. It is the most magical night of the year for nature based religions and the Witches New Year.
Today, Halloween is celebrated with parties, costumes, parades and children trick or treat from door to door.
Pumpkin decoration has also become an art, with artists carving elaborate decorations in the exterior skin of the pumpkin, far exceeding the eyes, nose and mouth most of us carved into our pumpkins as children. There are even contests for extreme pumpkin carving such as images of the president, the capitol, animals and other figures. Artists such as Ray Villafane, (villafanestudios.com) originally from New York, use pumpkins a medium for their sculpture talents.
Others like to paint faces onto their pumpkins, like the clients at Target Community and Educational Services in Westminster. According to their website, "Since its inception in 1983, Target Community & Educational Services, Inc. (Target) has been dedicated to enhancing the lives of children and adults with disabilities through quality, community-based residential, educational, vocational, recreational, and family support services." This year they painted pumpkins, used as centerpieces for their annual Bull Roast held Sept. 9.
This year you might want to make a really special pumpkin for your home. There are many patterns to use, videos on the internet on how to carve pumpkins or just use your imagination.