Did you know? A jack-of the-lantern is a carved pumpkin that is  associated with  Halloween.

But did you now that it  was named after the phenomenon of strange flickering lights that used to be seen  over peat bogs? 

This phenomenon was called ignis fatuus
will-o'-the-wisp or jack-o'-lantern.

An ignis fatuus (which means "foolish fire" in Latin)  is a ghostly light that in the olden days was  seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshland. It still happens to this day - it resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached. Old folklore said that the light 's purpose was malevolent - luring and  drawing travellers from the safe paths. This is a folk belief that was very prevalent all across Europe.

Today we know the science behind this. 'Marsh gas'  is methane that bubbles to the surface in   marshes; the gas is contaminated with phosphine and diphosphane which, when brought in contact with air, can spontaneously catch fire. This sudden burst of flame can potentially explain many will-o'-the-wisp sightings. 
There was in every hollow
A hundred wrymouthed wisps.
Dafydd ap Gwilym (trans. Wirt Sikes), 1340
Will-o'-the-wisps have been recorded  since at least the middle ages, as the quote above testifies. In the centuries that followed,  there have been dozens of  recorded anecdotes and personal accounts of the ignis fatuus. Sir Isaac Newton mentions them in his 1704 opus Opticks. The lights have also been incorporated into modern literature, e.g. Dracula, and have even had a children's television show named after them.

Today we carve pumpkins at Halloween and light them - and they are called Jack O'Lanterns - as in Jack of the Lantern - to remember the mysterious lights that people couldn't explain - now we know science so much better and know the phenomenon.
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