Celebrating Halloween Jack O’lantern Carving

Do you want to know when jack o’lantern carving began? How is jack o’lantern carving associated with Halloween? Who first began this tradition? What is a jack o’lantern? Questions which shall be answered below as we begin celebrating Halloween Jack o’lantern carving!

A jack o’lantern first came into being as a carved turnip. I don’t know about you, but I think I had much rather carve a pumpkin than a turnip! The jack o’lantern gets its name from the will o’ the wisp. This is a strange orange light that flickers over peat bogs. The “wisp” was defined as a bundle of sticks or paper used as a torch. The name actually meant “Will of the torch.” The word jack o’lantern follows this pattern and therefore means “Jack of (the) lantern. Will o’ the wisp was used as far back as the 1660’s.

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving will o' the wisp

The Origin of the Jack o’lantern

Carving jack o’lanterns for Halloween started back in Ireland. In the 19th century, they used turnips to hollow out for jack o’lanterns. They had a horribly grotesque face. These jack o’lanterns helped celebrate Halloween in Ireland and parts of Scotland. In these areas, the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain. This was believed to be a time when the souls of the dead roamed the earth. Halloween was also celebrated throughout Europe.

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving turnip jack o'lantern

Jack o’lanterns, considered supernatural beings, scared off the evil spirits, or so it was told. Sometimes they were used to frighten people. They sat in windows and kept out evil spirits. Halloween is actually on the eve of All Saints’ Day.

American Tradition of Jack o’lanterns

Pumpkins were first associated with harvest time in the United States. In 1820, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was written by Washington Irving. It was believed that the headless horseman had a pumpkin or a jack o’lantern in place of the severed head.

It didn’t come to be associated with carving the pumpkin until 1834. Carved pumpkin lanterns associated with Halloween were first told about in a newspaper in 1866. It was even recommended as part of the Thanksgiving entertainment in 1900.

Items Needed to Carve a Jack o’lantern

  • A pumpkin

  • A sharp paring knife or boning knife

  • A spoon or scoop

  • A permanent or dry-erase marker

  • Candles or LED lights

  • An x-acto knife for pulp carving or small details

  • A lighter or matches (optional)

  • Warning: Small children should be kept away from candles and knives!*

Choosing a Pumpkin

You should buy your pumpkin a few days before Halloween. If you buy it at the beginning of the month, it will rotten in a week and a half to two weeks. So make sure you don’t select yours before the week before Halloween.

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving - pumpkin selection

You can either select one from a pumpkin patch or from a farmer’s market. If these are not available then choose one from the grocery store. If you have little ones and a pumpkin patch is near, they will enjoy being able to select their own in the patch.

Try and choose a good healthy pumpkin that is free of bruises, nicks, or cuts. Its stem should be sturdy and not too bendable. You also want to choose a pumpkin that has the same coloring all the way around. Thump on it like you do a watermelon. If the sound is hollow, then the pumpkin is ripe.

If you make sure the base is good and flat it will help you come carving time! Make sure you select one that is sufficient size for your project.

Tracing Your Design

There are so many things you can do with a pumpkin nowadays. From very simple jack o’lantern face to an intricate design. Some design patterns you can get online. Others can be bought at the store. It is entirely up to your imagination and creativity.


If you are not going to use your jack o’lantern at night, you don’t even have to cut all the way through to the pulp. Just take the x-acto knife and scrape off some of the rind to reveal the pulp. Find the best place on the pumpkin for your design. You can use pencils, pens, and even gel pens. Now trace your design!

Preparation to Carving Your Pumpkin

Before you get started, make sure you have a large clear work surface. Cover your work surface and the floor in newspaper or garbage bags. The layout all of the items you will need plus a bowl to put the insides in. This makes for easy clean-up!

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving - cutting notch in lid

Next, you are going to need your knife. This will be a sharp knife so make sure little ones stay back. If they haven’t decorated their pumpkin yet let them do so now so they will feel part of the activity! Measure about 2 inches around the stem of the pumpkin. Draw where you are going to cut the lid out. A hexagonal shape is usually easier to cut. This should probably be big enough for your hand to fit through, but adjust the size if needed. When cutting the lid, use an up and down sawing motion but keep the knife at about a 45 degree slanted angle. This is basically keeping the knife pointing at the center of the pumpkin. If you leave a little notch in the lid it helps replace it easier.

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving - scooping out seeds and pulp

Once you have the lid cut out, now it is time to remove the insides! You can use a spoon or scoop to help remove the seeds and pulp. However, you may find it easier to remove it with your hands. That way you make sure to remove every seed. You want the pumpkin to be clean inside so the light shines through well. Be sure you save your seeds for toasting later!

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving - scooping out seeds

Carving Your Design On Your Pumpkin

This time use a gentle back and forth motion with your knife. Be especially gentle if you have an intricate design to carve. Keep your knife pointing downward this time. Make precise movements. If the piece doesn’t want to come out, try running your knife back around the area again. If it is still being stubborn try using a toothpick to get it out. Also, remember if you are working in a very small area you might need to use the x-acto knife. Just take your time and your design will turn out awesome! Just remember do NOT jerk the knife out toward you as this is not safe!

celebrating Halloween jack o'lantern carving - jack o'lanterns lit up

Lighting Your Jack o’lantern

You can use either a tea light or votive candle. Just remember to never go off and leave a candle lit while you are away from home. Instead, another great option is to a LED light to light him up! When displaying your Jack o’lantern make sure it is in a safe area. Don’t place it near a scarecrow or hay if you are using a candle. If you are needing to place it on a wooden surface, place a dinner plate under your pumpkin. This way any hot wax will not catch the wooden surface on fire.

celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving - bandit design


  • If you leave your pumpkin outside in the cool, its life will be extended.

  • You can purchase carving kits that contain knives and the design in many stores.

  • You don’t have to carve only the one side of the pumpkin! Bring some other designs all around the pumpkin. Cat paw prints and flying bats are great for this!

 celebrating Halloween Jack o'lantern carving - cowboy and horse

I’m so glad you came along to celebrate Halloween by carving a Jack o’lantern with me!



the Holiday Mom

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