For us, the Jack O'Lantern is a carved pumpkin whose face light up Halloween night. But it has its origins in the phenomenon of a strange light that flickers over peat bogs called ignis fatuus.

The actual practice of carving out gourds to create elaborate decorations began thousands of years ago in Africa. The tradition of carving a lantern from these gourds seem to have originated in England. The were left on the doorstep on All Hallows' Eve to ward off evil spirits.

The name Jack O'Lantern comes from the tale of a man who tricked the devil into never claiming his soul. But he lived such sinful life that when he died he was not be allowed into heaven either. So he had nowhere to go. Sadly, he carved out a turnip and climbed inside. For light, the devil tossed him an ember from Hell that would never go out, and Jack began wandering the Earth looking for a resting place.

Below you will find more bits of trivia about Halloween.

The origins of Halloween are ancient and date back to a 2000 year old Celtic festival. They celebrated the New Year on November 1, the end of summer and the beginning of a dark cold winter. But they believed that on October 31 the last day of the year, the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred as ghosts returned to earth to cause trouble and damage crops.

To the Celts, Halloween was known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in) or the "end of summer". By the Middle Ages, the church was trying to replace the Celtic festival of the Dead, with a day that honored the saints. This new celebration was called all-hallowmas and the evening that preceeded it, all-hallowseve, or Halloween.

An early Christian tradition was placing a platter of soul cakes outside the front door on all hallowseve. The purpose was twofold. They were given to beggars who went from house to house on Halloween. They promised to say a prayer for one of the family's departed in return for a cake. One cake for one soul. They were also used as a reward for bands of entertainers called mummers who made their merry rounds at Halloween. Either way, this is believed to be the basis for the modern practice of trick or treat.
Most of the symbolism surrounding today's Halloween is inspired by the classic Hollywood horror films, like Dracula, and Frankenstein's Monster. One of the most enduring however, is the black cat. Even in ancient folklore black cats were associated with witchcraft and evil. During the witch hunts of the Middle Ages, black cats were also hunted down and burned. Today we see them mostly as a silly superstitions.

Witches being closely associated with Halloween is a very modern idea. During the early Christian era, witches were seen as the cohorts of the devil often depicted in his embrace, or flying through the sky on a broom or goat. But what is more frightening than the witch, itself, is how they were hunted down during the Middles Ages. Now, the most well known witch is the green faced creature from the Wizard of Oz.

If you feel the need to get away for Halloween you might want to put Darmstadt, Germany on your must see list. There is a castle in the town that was once inhabited by theologian and physician Johann Conrad Dippel. The legend goes that Dippel tried to construct a new human being out of the body parts of prisoners he kept locked up in the castle dungeon. When Mary Shelley visited the Castle in 1816, she was inspired to write Frankenstein.