Today when we think of the Samhain sabbat, or Halloween, we often have images of pumpkins. I was curious of the historical significance of the pumpkin to Samhain and curious to how it may have been altered, if there was one. The most obvious indicator of the pumpkin being used is in the season. Regardless of the millennium, pumpkins are a seasonal item during the fall. This is when they are harvested and so it makes much sense that they would be offered in the fall festival feasts. However, how, when and why would they be decorated and now called a Jack-O-Lantern? Does that idea come from a Christian tradition or was it too adopted from a tradition that predates Christianity?
I actually had a difficult time finding the information that I was seeking out. I found many websites described the Jack-O-Lantern and referencing it to St. Jack the prankster but very few elaborated on that. The best information I seemed to find came right off Wikipedia in searching for Samhain.
“The ‘traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces’. They were also set on windowsills. By those who made them, the lanterns were variously said to represent the spirits or supernatural beings, or were used to ward off evil spirits. These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scotland into the 20th century. They were also found in Somerset (see Punkie Night). In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o'-lanterns.” (Samhain). It appears that all kinds of gourds were used for these lanterns in early days, not just the pumpkin. It makes sense that they would use what was accessible and in season, however, when we take a deeper look, we are able to see that even the simple things still have that pagan root.
Samhain.Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. 2017 October 7. Retrieved at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain.