Drinking with the Devil, the history of Jack O’Lanterns

Halloween is just around the corner. Soon, carved pumpkins, illuminated by a candle, will begin popping up on neighborhood porches.

But how did pumpkin carving become a tradition included in trick-or-treating festivities? How did these gourd works of art become called “Jack O’Lanterns?”

According to www.history. com, the name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. Internationally beets, turnips and potatoes were used as an earlier pumpkin prototype.

Hand in hand with this tale is a varied international belief that during Halloween, spirits enter our world, these fire-lit carvings are also meant to ward off the unwanted spirits.

Irish immigrants brought the tradition to the United States, with its native pumpkin, and it became an integral part of Halloween festivities.

This Jack O’Lantern is freshly carved into a ghoulish haunted mansion.  Photo Credit: Rachel Kobylas

This Jack O’Lantern is freshly carved into a ghoulish haunted mansion. Photo Credit: Rachel Kobylas

So, who is this “Stingy Jack,” and why is he “honored” with such a continued Halloween tradition?

According to the traditional Irish folklore carried on for centuries, Stingy Jack was, well, stingy. This mythical tale, according to www.hauntedbay. com/history/jol.shtml, shares the tale of a drunken, Irish blacksmith who invited the devil to drink with him. Being stingy, Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink. Jack tricked and captured the devil on two occasions, bartering his soul.

The last of the trickery, Stingy Jack managed to have the devil promise not to take his soul.

Not long after, Jack died, but God wouldn’t allow him in to heaven because of his dastardly deeds.  From the myth itself it reads, “The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell.

“Being unable to go to heaven or hell Jack asked the Devil where he should go. The Devil only replied, ‘Back where you came from!’ The way back was very dark so Jack begged the Devil to at least give him a light to find his way. The Devil tossed Jack burning coal from the fire of hell to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as ‘Jack of the Lantern.’”

So when you’re carving your pumpkins this year, if you keep with the tradition, maybe your Jack O’Lantern will keep Stingy Jack and his friends away from your home and off of your porch.

Rachel Kobylas

Staff Writer

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