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Ancient Celtic Turnip Carvings Paved the Way for Jack-O’-Lanterns

Samhain (which means “summer’s end” in Gaelic) is the ancient pagan festival that ushered in the beginning of winter and the Celtic new year. It also evolved into All Hallow’s Eve, and then Halloween. Centuries ago, it was believed that the veil between life and death was at its thinnest during the transition from October to November, allowing visits from spirits. To ward off unwelcome ghosts, ghouls and monsters, people in Ireland and other Celtic areas carved lanterns out of produce including radishes, beets and (the most popular option) turnips. Eventually, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Celts began carving faces and designs that would allow more light to shine through. These turnip lanterns mostly stayed in the past, while the tradition of making jack-o’-lanterns continued. Learn more about this evolution at Smithsonian Magazine.

Image courtesy of National Museum of Ireland/Smithsonian

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