The origin of pumpkin carving first originated in Ireland before the practice was brought over to American soil. In those days, the locals used turnips instead, as pumpkins were a scarce commodity at the time. It was an ancient custom to carve out turnips and place embers inside them to ward off the evil spirits. When the Irish immigrants arrived in the U.S., they found it easier to carve and hollow out the larger, orange squash plants.
This practice is recounted with the tale of Stingy Jack, a miserable drunkard who enjoyed playing tricks on his family, friends, and even the devil. He was able to trick the demon by making him climb an apple tree and then laying some crosses around the tree trunk. Unable to escape, the Devil struck a deal with Jack, promising not to take his soul into hell.
Unfortunately, upon his death, Stingy Jack would not be accepted into heaven for his cruelty. Forced to traverse the pitch black netherworld, the devil gave him a small ember to light his way so that he could leave. Jack carved a small turnip hollow and kept his tiny ember within and began to wander aimlessly.