Used to be a carved Turnip… Really!
Yup, the people of the British Isles started using carved turnips in the celebration of the nights of Samhain during the 19th century. Obviously this is a little post Rennie but it is Halloween people and I think it is interesting.
Truth be told they used beets as well and a veggie called the manglewurzel but I like the idea of people sitting turnips outside their house. Here is where the Rennie stuff comes in, Samhain was a time when the fairies and spirits were said to be active. Twig the Fairy and her ilk were out and about causing mischief and looking adorable. The use of the lighted, carved vegetables outside the house was maybe to light your way as you moved around on the night of Samhain. They might also have used these lights to ward off the more malicious of the sprites and spirits that were out during this, their favorite holiday. As in most customs, there is a second theory and that is that the carved turnip was a representation of the Christian soul that was caught in purgatory. Seeing as Christians tend to usurp a lot of their traditions from other traditions, I am going with the faeries and spirits on this one.
According to wikipedia? the first date for the use of the term Jack-o-Lantern to refer to a carved pumpkin in America is around 1834. The British immigrants that came to the area found the pumpkin to be much more plentiful, larger and therefore they surpassed the turnip as the carvable food of choice.
Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
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!
Either history of the Jack-o-Lantern that you like, it is no matter. The point is that pumpkins and the carving of vegetables goes back many years. You know if they were doing it in the 19th century that they were probably doing it before that, certainly the carving of faces on gourds were an art form by this time so the argument can be made that carved Jack-O-Lanterns were a part of social circles before that point.
Get out there and carve a pumpkin. Celebrate Samhain and All Saints Day at the same time. Who knows you might even see a faerie or a spirit running around your neighborhood next week.