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People are becoming more and more creative when they carve their pumpkin. When you carve a pumpkin, you cut off the top and scoop out the flesh. On the side of the pumpkin, a monstrous or humorous face is carved. Usually the pumpkin sits next to the front door of the house. A candle is lit to illuminate the carving and placed inside. The cut off top replaced as a lid.
The tradition was brought over to the United States with the Irish immigrants. In Ireland and Britain, it was commonplace to carve lanterns out of vegetables such as turnips, potatoes, beets, etc.. These lanterns were carved and placed on the door step on All Hallows’ Eve to ward off evil spirits.
The origins are based in Irish folktales and there are several different versions. Here’s a version I found on the net:
“The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O' Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O' Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O' Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.
Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel, and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. From that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his "Jack O' Lantern". (The Pumpkin Nook)
Here’s a second version:
“Another version of the myth says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped.
Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which was his favorite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as ‘Jack of the Lantern’, or Jack-o'-Lantern.” (Wikipedia)
Here are a few more creative Jack O’ Lanterns:
More of these pumpkin carvings can be seen at : http://www.coolpicturegallery.us/2010/10/cool-halloween-pumpkin-jack-o-lanterns.html