Events & Holidays

A brief history of the Jack O’ Lantern

October 19, 2012
A brief history of the Jack O’ Lantern

In few short days, gals and ghouls will be walking the streets and begging for candy. That’s right, Halloween will be amongst us once again, and you’re probably getting ready to celebrate by carving a Jack O’ Lantern on your wooden cutting board.

But have ever you taken the time to wonder where the tradition of the Jack O’ Lantern came from? Apparently, we owe this tradition to Ireland and a man named Stingy Jack.

Who was Stingy Jack?
Well, for starters, Stingy Jack isn’t an actual person. He is a fictional character from an old Irish legend about a clever man who was able to trick the devil. Stingy Jack once invited the Devil to have drinks with him and, being true to this nickname, he didn’t want to pay for the drinks that they had ordered. He somehow convinced the Devil to take the form of a coin in order for him to pay for the drinks. But, Jack decided to keep the money and he placed the coin transformed Devil into his pocket next to a silver cross. Even if the silver cross prevented the Devil from transforming, Jack eventually released him but he made the Devil promise that he would not bother him for an entire year.

A year later, the Devil returned and this time, Jack tricked him into climbing a tree to pick some fruit. Since the trick of the cross worked the year before, Jack carved a cross into the bark of the tree. Trapped once again, the Devil agreed to Jack’s condition, he had to leave the lying man alone for 10 more years and he would not claim his soul once Jack was dead.

Jack met his demise soon after and, according to legend; God didn’t want to let such a dishonest man into heaven. The Devil didn’t want anything to do with Jack either, so he kept his promise and didn’t claim his soul. Instead, he cursed Jack’s soul to forever roam the world alone and he gave him a single piece of coal to light his way. Jack placed that piece of coal into a turnip and he used it as a lantern to light his way through the night.

From turnips to pumpkins
The ghost of Stingy Jack was named Jack of the Lantern by the Irish and that name simply became Jack O’ Lantern throughout the centuries. People began to carve their own versions of the turnip lantern and they would place it on their windows to keep Jack’s spirit away from their homes. In England, the vegetable of choice in which lanterns were carved was the beet. When the Irish and the English immigrated to America, they brought the Jack O’ Lantern tradition with them and used the most efficient vegetable they could find in order to carve lanterns, the pumpkin.

So this Halloween, when you will begin carving that pumpkin on your cutting board, think of old Stingy Jack and how the legend of a cheap old man gave way to a wonderful tradition that is now being enjoyed by children all over the world.


http://www.history.com/topics/jack-olantern-history

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