where does the American tradition of Jack-o’-lanterns and witches come from?

Wherever you go in the United States, Halloween is everywhere: in home decorations, in supermarkets, in children’s costumes. A tradition imported from Ireland and which has since become widespread, becoming an integral part of American popular culture with its unmistakable pumpkin-lanterns: Jack-o’-lanterns.

One of the most widespread legends tells that a blacksmith named Jack, who had a penchant for alcohol and deceit, had cheated the devil twice, when they had made a deal: his soul for money. money and 10 years of his life. Upon his death, Jack was denied access to heaven (because of his dissolute life) and hell (he played a trick on the devil). He found himself stuck between two worlds. But the devil still gave him a coal ember to light his turnip lantern.

With Irish immigration to the United States in the mid-19th century, the turnips were replaced by pumpkins found on site. Orange cucurbits quickly became the main symbol of the Halloween holiday, first in the countryside and then throughout the United States, from the beginning of the 20th century.

The Witches of Salem…

The other symbol is the witches. As these were associated with darkness and were, still according to legend, able to communicate with the dead, even the devil, they were associated with this period which also marks the transition to winter, with the days that shorten. Less light, so more darkness…

But the witches also echo another important episode in American history: the one, in 1692, of the Salem witch trials, from the name of this small town near Boston. Originally, there are three young girls with strange behaviors. No certainty, but they could have been poisoned with ergot, a poisonous mushroom that attacks this cereal.

Still, accusations of witchcraft spread quickly? Twenty people are hanged, including fourteen women. It is the largest witch hunt in North American history.

>> A letter from America, a series of exceptional episodes to be found every Tuesday. A sound postcard to help us better understand this America of today, both so familiar and sometimes totally disconcerting. An RTL Originals podcast.

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