Halloween is now second only to Christmas for the amount of money spent on candy, decorations and costumes in the US and Canada. The custom appears to have come to North America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the early 20th century. In the past two decades it has spread to Europe and Australia, much to the dismay of many people there who oppose the embracing of American pop culture.
The origin of Halloween goes back to ancient Ireland and Scotland. The pagan Celts held the Festival of Samhain at the end of October. It signified the end of the harvest season and a time to take stock of supplies for the winter months. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day. Huge bonfires would be lit and people started wearing ugly masks to confuse the the spirits and keep the dead from identifying them. Over the years the festival came to have a sinister significance with ghost, witches, goblins and demons of all kinds believed to be wandering about. Turnips were hollowed out and a light placed in them to act as lanterns.
There are many variations of a Celtic myth where an unsavory character named Stingy Jack made a deal with the Devil so that he would never go to hell. When Jack died, God would not let such a scoundrel into heaven and the Devil would not allow him into hell. The Devil gave him an ember of coal and sent him away. Jack placed it in a carved out turnip and has been roaming the earth ever since, Jack o’ the lantern.
The carving of jack-o-lanterns has become a major part of the holiday and a symbol of the season. A cousin who lives in Frankfort, Michigan sent photos of the pumpkin carving competition in his town.