Apparently, an Irish legend tells of Jack, a lazy but shrewd farmer who used a cross to trick the Devil, then refused to free him unless he agreed to never let Jack into Hell. The Devil agreed. When Jack died, the Devil wouldn't let him into Hell. So, Jack carved out one of his turnips, put a candle inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He was known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-Lantern.
So, it looks like we carve faces into pumpkins to commemorate poor Jack-of-the-Lantern's endless ethereal wanderings. And North Americans have been doing this for hundreds of years, too, as demonstrated by this poem called "The Pumpkin" written byJohn Greenleaf Whittier in 1850:
Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,So, in honor of poor Jack, we invited several friends over last night and had our own little Alaska Pumpkin Massacre. Here are the results:
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
As you can see, we had a small lapse in creativity, as our two guests both opted for Jack Skellington -o-lanterns. Meanwhile, Sonja carved the cool spooky cat and I did the one with the goblin peeking out from behind the curtains. We then proceeded to burn the roasted pumpkin seeds while we watched The Sixth Sense and The Shining. I hadn't seen The Shining for probably fifteen years and was surprised at how un-scary it really was. While Jack certainly did a fantastic job playing a crazy person, this film would never appear on my list of scariest movies.
And next year, forget the pumpkins. I'm carving a turnip!