Halloween traces its roots back to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced SOW-in).
One of the holiday’s quintessential traditions — pumpkin-carving — originated from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack.
According to legend, Stingy Jack refused to pay for his drinks at a tavern one night, so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy the drinks. Once the devil did this, Jack decided to keep the money. Jack put the money in his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually freed the devil under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year, and that if he should die, the devil would not claim his soul.
The next year, Jack again tricked the devil into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so the devil could not come down until he promised Jack not to bother him for 10 more years.
Soon after, Jack died. When the devil cast Jack into eternal darkness, he gave him a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the earth ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern" and then simply Jack-o-Lantern.
In Ireland, All Hallows’ Eve was celebrated by carrying an ember in a hollowed-out turnip. In America, lighted pumpkins replaced turnips.