This Is What People Used to Carve for Halloween Before Pumpkins

So THAT'S why they're called Jack-o'-lanterns.


Halloween and Jack-o’-lanterns go together like Thanksgiving and turkey. The ghoulish faces carved into pumpkins certainly add to the holiday’s spook factor, but gourds weren’t the first scary-looking food to grace doorways. Here are 15 genius hacks for Halloween pumpkin carving you’ll use from now on.

The origin of carving pumpkins stemmed from an Irish folk tale that started in the 17th century, according to A man named—you guessed it—Jack managed to trick the Devil twice and made him promise not to take his soul, according to When Jack did die, a dishonest man like him couldn’t make it into heaven, and the Devil didn’t want him in hell either. The Devil banished Jack with nothing but a burning coal, which the man put into a carved-out turnip. As legend has it, Jack is now cursed to wander the Earth forever, and became known as “Jack of the lantern,” or “Jack o’ lantern.” Spooky stuff! Don’t miss the history behind 14 more Halloween traditions.

Across the British Isles, people would carve lanterns like Jack’s, according to English Heritage. Irishmen and Scots generally used turnips or sometimes potatoes, while beets were common in England. They hoped that by placing the vegetable lanterns in doorways, the faces would scare away evil spirits like Jack. Try these 19 cheap DIY Halloween decorations after you’ve finished your Jack-o’-lanterns.

When immigrants came to the United States in the 19th century, they took their tradition with them. But they soon realized pumpkins, which are native to America, were easier to carve than the stem and root vegetables they’d used before. Find out how to make your carved pumpkin last two weeks or longer.

Thanks in part to how easy it is to carve a pumpkin, Jack-o’-lanterns have become more and more elaborate. Use these 31 free pumpkin carving patterns to take your Jack-o’-lantern to the next level.

Popular Videos

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.