Leave it to the Irish to bring their fantastical tales and mystical folklure to America. When Irish immigrants came to America the tradition of carving came with them; although, the Irish carved turnips, not pumpkins.
So how did turnips turn into pumpkin carving? The truth is pumpkins were readily available and well, they looked much scarier than a turnip. Maybe, that’s the truth, the other is we don’t know. As it goes with many traditional practices, there are some different stories about how things developed.
The original folklore surrounding the carvings manifested from a tale centered on a man named Stingy Jack. Jack was a jerk. He loved to play tricks on family and friends. As the story goes he invited the devil to have a drink with him, but Jack didn’t want to surrender his own money to pay for the drinks. He tricked the devil into turning himself into a coin. He kept the coin but offered to set the devil free IF he promised not to take his soul. In short Jack ticked off God and made the devil furious. When Jack died, neither God nor the devil welcomed him. Jack’s soul was doomed to roam the earth and frighten people with his tricks. Thus, the Jack-O-Lantern saves you from Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.
There are other variations of this tale and/or both parts are included. The other is that Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Then the devil couldn’t get down because Jack made it so the devil had to touch a cross. Well, the devil can’t do that so Jack made him promise not to take his soul. Either way, Jack messed up, but his failures are our gains in this time honored tradition!