Jack-o’-lantern beginnings

Photo by Ranger Staff
Photo by the Ranger Staff

By Nikki Larkan

According to an old Irish myth, a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack” invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Not wanting to buy the drinks himself, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to buy their drinks with.

Instead of buying the drinks, however, Jack kept the money, putting the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross to prevent the Devil from changing back into his original form.

Eventually, Jack freed the Devil under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. Jack carved a cross into the tree while the Devil was at the top to keep him from coming down until he promised Jack he would leave him alone for the next 10 years. Jack died soon after and, as the legend goes, God refused to allow him to enter heaven. The Devil was upset by Jack’s tricks but kept his word to not claim his soul.

Banned from heaven and hell, Jack was sent off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light the path ahead of him.

Jack carved a turnip to hold his coal and has been roaming the earth ever since.

The Irish referred to the ghost of Jack as “Jack of the Lantern,” which was eventually shortened to “Jack O’ Lantern.”

The Irish and Scottish people began making their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and his fellow wandering evil spirits.

The tradition spread, and the English began using beets to carve and light. Immigrants brought the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern with them when they came to the United States.

Eventually, they found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make the perfect jack-o’-lanterns.


Originally published: Thursday, October 20, 2011

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