The image above shows a terrifying example of a traditional Irish jack-o’-lantern carved from a turnip, circa 1850. Preserved all these years by the tears of children, I presume.
According to Irish folklore, a ne’er do well named Stingy Jack made a bad bargain with the Devil and was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity, with only a burning coal inside a hollowed turnip to light his way. His ghostly figure can be seen only at night, as the strange lights of his lantern flicker over peat bogs and swampy marshes…hence becoming known as Jack Of The Lantern.
This tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns is associated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, the predecessor of the modern-day Halloween. Samhain’s association with winter and death in nature made it a time for remembering those who had died, and a time for seeking protection for the home and the family from wandering spirits like Jack.
The carved turnip above is from the collection of the National Museum of Ireland Country Life. The museum also holds a second (equally terrifying) example carved around 1900 at Baile na Finne in County Donegal:
Technically, the picture shows a plaster cast of the original “ghost turnip” which was made by the museum after the real lantern began to deteriorate in the early 21st century. The original turnip was donated in 1943 by a village schoolteacher who wanted to preserve a tradition that was dying out in the area.
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