Did you know that a Jack O Lantern was a fella that walked around with a lantern, like a night watchman? Back in the olde days of the 1600's, before electric lights, lanterns and oil lamps gave light during the dark days and the dark nights...
Imagine a light bobbing along in a dark foggy street, and it's easy to see why folks would think that maybe a ghost or a spirit was swinging a lantern. And out in the countryside when they couldn't explain a strange light off in the dark distance....must be a ghost! There were no streetlights, no table lamps, no flashlights.....when you went outside, it was the moon and the stars....and maybe some swamp gas.
Around the campfires, folk tales were told about weird lights, and Jack, being a very common name, was assigned to the carrier of the strange lights. One popular old folk story was about a strange guy named Stingy Jack who got in a bit of a pickle with the Devil. When Stingy Jack died, God refused Stingy Jack entrance into Heaven, and the Devil wouldn't allow him into Hell. Mr. Devil gave Stingy Jack a burning coal in a hollowed out turnip to light his way. So, Stingy Jack roams the earth with his vegetable lantern.
Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out Of Africa, notes that "her" Kikuyu people used their pumpkins as lanterns also....filling them will coals and carried them out to the goat herds and goat herders to light the night. Occasionally, the embers would catch the grass fields on fire and how distressing that was!
Country people and city people, from that time on, have said that the mysterious lights over swamps and fields and down dark alleys and streets are Stingy Jack and his turnip lantern.
Using hollow vegetables, and setting candles, coal or hot wood embers inside makes a cheap easy lantern, and so..... and you can see where this is going! Pumpkins ..being larger than beets and turnips became the favorite fall vegetable to use for hollowing out and fit with candles to add a cheery and creepy nighttime glow.
By the 19th century, it was becoming a fun thing to do.... carve out large pumpkins and squash and light them up. The Mayor of Atlanta, in 1892 held a costume party for the fancy folk. Halloween was fast becoming the big party of the season, and well it should.......with fun costumes and delicious food and spirits.........both the ethereal kind and the imbibing kind.
The pumpkins were carved with funny and scary faces and thus...the tradition of carving a fall vegetable, adding a flickering light and setting it out on the porch and by the front gate became an American tradition.