The jack-o'-lantern is the most recognized symbol associated with Halloween in the United States.
You may be aware that the custom of carving pumpkins evolved from the age-old tradition of utilizing turnips as lanterns in the British Isles, but are you familiar with the legend surrounding jack-o'-lanterns and their association with Halloween?
According sources such as Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night and Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, the carving of jack-o'-lanterns stems from an old Scots-Irish custom of placing candles inside carved turnips to show respect for souls lost in purgatory. These lost souls were said to walk the earth on the evening before All Saints Day (All Hallows). Pumpkins were soon substituted for turnips in the Americas once the Scots-Irish were introduced to the large native squash.
The term jack-o'-lantern is alleged have originated in the Irish legend of Jack of the Lantern. Jack was known as Stingy Jack or Jack the Drunkard and was well-known for playing several tricks on the devil. Most famous of these legends is the time in which he tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree. Once aloft, Jack carved a cross into the tree, thus trapping the devil. Jack only agreed to let the devil out of the tree if he promised to never take Jack's soul.
Jack passed away many years later and, naturally, heaven would not accept him owing to his sinful ways. The devil lived up to his promise and tossed Jack an ember from the fires of hell which Jack carried around in a carved turnip in order to help light his way as he wandered the earth as a lost soul. Jack then became known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack-O'-Lantern.
Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween!