Given Halloween's roots in death and the spirit world, you might wonder how an activity as tame a pumpkin carving fits into this macabre holiday. Turns out, this Pinterest-approved decoration has a spooky origin story of its own, starring the Devil himself.
An Irish folktale tells the story of Stingy Jack, a thrifty individual who met Satan in a pub. After sharing a few rounds, Jack tricked the Devil into turning himself into a coin in order to pay the bill, and pocketed the Devil before he could return to his normal form. Conveniently, Jack kept him right next to a cross, effectively trapping the Devil as a coin. (Other versions of the story state that Jack had a cross-shaped scar on his hand and held the Devil in his fist.)
Jack only agrees to let the Devil go free if he promises he won't try to exact his revenge on Jack for a year (in some tellings, he asks for a decade). Jack died before he met the Devil again. He first traveled up to Heaven, but was turned away because he was so stingy in life. So, he went down to the gates of Hell. But, when he encountered the Devil, who remembered him all too well, he was denied entry there, too.
Instead, the Devil told him, his punishment would be to stay on Earth for all eternity, with nothing more than a single coal to guide him through the nights. The story goes that Jack carved a lantern out of a turnip to better carry his coal, earning him the nickname "Jack of the lantern," which would eventually become "Jack o' lantern."
Not only is this a cautionary tale about where money-grubbing will get you, it's also a reminder that early Halloween celebrations featured carved turnips. Pumpkins would only become the norm after the holiday made it to America.
As light-hearted as Jack o' lanterns may be nowadays, summoning the image of an eternally damned man stalking through the wilderness with only a dying coal to light his way will surely put you in an appropriately creepy mood.