Halloween would not be complete without including the traditional carved pumpkin, more commonly known as the jack-o’-lantern. Many families make this part of their own home decorating around Halloween. In fact, it has even become part of the tradition for families to venture out to the pumpkin patch and make their selection together. Sometimes this means deciding on one monstrous fruit to slice and dice, or each member getting their own pumpkin for decorating. Though the carving and display of the pumpkin has been an annual part of people’s lives, possibly all the way back to the arrival of the first Irish Immigrants, few know the history of the jack-o’-lantern.
How the History of the Jack-o’-Lantern Came to Be
An old Irish tale of folklore tells the tale of “Stingy Jack” and the Devil and how trickery led the man to become forever famous. There are variations of the story, as tends to happen with any story passed down through the generations, but the general idea remains fairly consistent. It starts with Jack having a pint at the pub with the Devil himself. Having the nickname “Stingy Jack” obviously meant the man was always looking for a way out of paying, and so on this particular occasion he saw the Devil as a way free and clear of paying for his drink.
He asked the Devil if he would consider shifting himself into the form of a coin that could be used to square away the bill. Old Stingy offered up his soul in exchange for this deal. The Devil of course agreed and turned himself into a sixpence. Of course, once the Devil had done so, Jack got to rethinking this deal they’d made and was tempted by the feel of money in his hand, so he slipped that Devil coin into his pocket, keeping it near a silver cross so that there was no chance of a change back transformation.
After some time, Jack thought of a better deal he could strike with the Devil. He agreed to set the Devil free, as long as this demon assured Jack he would not try to steal the mortal’s soul for ten full years. Of course, the Devil obliged but was enraged with Jack for his cunning trickery, and waited for those years to pass.
At the end of the ten year spell, Jack was meandering down a lonely, road deep in the countryside, having long forgotten about his contract with the Devil. Suddenly, the Devil appeared before Jack having come to claim the soul he felt he was owed. Jack tried to delay and distract the Devil, but finally reluctantly caved in. First though, Jack requested that the Devil climb a nearby tree to snatch an apple for Jack to eat as his last meal.
Once the Devil had made his way far into the limbs, Jack quickly etched the sign of the cross into the bark of the tree trunk, capturing the Devil in the branches high above. Jack had fooled the demon, once again. He made the Devil another offer. If the Devil assured Jack his soul would remain intact and never been the Devil’s to take, Jack would set him free from the tree. Angry at being fooled again but having no other choice, the Devil went along with the deal.
When Jack finally did die and tried to enter Heaven, God wanted no part of allowing entry to this man who had demonstrated such terrible behavior while living. The Devil could not allow Jack’s soul to enter Hell and, therefore, sent Jack back to where he came from. The way was dark and Jack, unable to see his way out from Hell requested something to light his path. The Devil then tossed a hot, burning coal ember for Jack to carry. This ember would never burn out since it was from the flames of Hell.
Since the coal burnt his hands, Jack looked for a vessel to use to carry this coal and eventually came across a turnip which he carved to create a lantern. This created the legend of Jack the Lantern, also known as Jack O’Lantern.
At Halloween, the Irish continued to believe the story of Jack and other wandering evil spirits and began to set out their own jack-o’-lantern turnips to ward away these apparitions. Hence the tradition was born, as was the history of the jack-o’-lantern.