Every October, carved pumpkins are displayed on our porches and doorsteps. We all have carved, or watched someone carve, a pumpkin into a “Jack-O’ Lantern” during the Halloween season. Do you know where and when the custom of carving and decorating “Jack-O’-Lanterns” began?
People have been making Jack-O’-Lanterns during Halloween for centuries. The practice of carving “Jack O’Lanterns” originated from an Irish myth tracing back hundreds about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who took pleasure in playing tricks on just about everyone. Jack was known throughout the land as a deceiver, manipulator and otherwise dreg of society. On a fateful night, the devil overheard the tale of Jack’s evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced (and envious) of the rumors, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his vile reputation. Typical of Jack, he was drunk and wandering through the countryside at night when he came upon the Devil on his cobblestone path. Jack realized somberly this was his end; the Devil had finally come to collect his evil soul. Jack made a last request: he asked the Devil to let him drink ale before he departed to Hades. Finding no reason not to acquiesce the request, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked the Devil to pay the tab on the ale, to the Devils surprise. Jack convinced the Devil to change into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender . Shrewdly, Jack stuck the coin into his pocket, which also contained a crucifix. The crucifix’s presence kept the Devil from escaping his form. This coerced the Devil to agree to Jack’s demand: in exchange for freedom, he had to spare Jack’s soul for ten years. The Devil promised and was set free.
Ten years later to the date when Jack originally struck his deal, he found himself once again in the Devils presence. Jack happened upon the Devil in almost the same setting as before and seemingly accepted it was his time to go to Hell for good. As the Devil prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly the Devil once again agreed to this request. As the Devil climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, the Devil demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by the Devil into Hell. Satan agreed and again was set free.
Many years later, Jack died and as legends goes, he went to the pearly gates and he was turned away from Heaven, due to his life of sin. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack had nowhere to go, but to wander about forever in the dark world between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave, as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell, to help Stingy Jack light his way. Jack put the ember into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. According to the legend, you can see Jack’s spirit on All Hallows’ Eve, still carrying his turnip lantern through the darkness. The Irish began to refer to this eerie ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, just “Jack O’ Lantern.”
In Ireland, Scotland and England, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips, potatoes or beets and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits on Hallows eve. Immigrants from these countries brought the “Jack O’ Lantern” tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, were bigger and easier to carve and make perfect “Jack-O’-Lanterns”.
Carving pumpkins into Jack-O-Lanterns became an American tradition as Halloween was adopted in the “New World” in the early 1880’s becoming part of American Holiday traditions. Today Jack-o’-lanterns are still synonymous with Halloween. Illuminated pumpkins decorated with ghoulish faces, cartoons, and pretty much anything you can think of, are now found on almost every doorstep.