This week being the week of Halloween, I thought an interesting tale about the history of Halloween would be in order.
Have you ever wondered where the tradition of carving pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns came from? Well check out this old Irish folk tale about a man named Stingy Jack who played a trick on the Devil and paid the price.
“Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack, an Irish blacksmith and notorious drunk, had the great misfortune to run into the Devil in a pub. Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a sixpence that Jack could use to buy their drinks in exchange for Jack’s soul. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack and not try to claim his soul for ten years. When the ten years had passed, Jack ran into the Devil as he walked down a country road. The Devil was anxious to claim what was due but Jack stalled. Jack thought quickly and said to the devil. “I’ll go, but before I go, will you get me an apple from that tree?” The Devil thinking he had nothing to lose climbed the tree as Jack pointed to the choicest apple. Perturbed, the Devil climbed high into the tree after the apple Jack selected. When he was high up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down. Jack, very proud of himself made the Devil promise to never again ask him for his soul. Seeing no other choice the Devil reluctantly agreed.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. 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,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.” Today we commonly spell it jack-o-lantern or jack-o’-lantern.
In Ireland and Scotland, people believed that spirits and ghosts could enter their world on Halloween. These spirits and ghosts would be attracted to the comforts of their earthly lives. People not wanting to be visited by these ghosts would set food and treats out to appease the roaming spirits and began to make 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 other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. 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, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns. They were softer and easier to carve than the turnips and potatoes of their homeland.
So remember this Halloween when you are carving your pumpkin the moral of the story of Stingy Jack.