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History of the Jack O’ Lantern

Posted by admin On May - 17 - 2011

History of the Jack O’ Lantern

The Jack-O-Lantern we know today may not have been around for centuries, but some form of the carved vegetable has been amongst us for several hundred years.  An Irish myth about a fellow called Stingy Jack was the origin of this Halloween staple.  This Jack invited the devil in to the local pub have a drink, so he must have been well started on his night of celebration.  But, because he was so stingy, Jack did not want to pay.  He somehow talked the devil into transforming into a coin so that Jack could buy them a couple of beers.

Trickier than the devil, after the devil had accommodated Jack, the stingy fellow decided to keep the coin.  He slipped it into his pocket alongside of a silver cross which he’d had for a while.  This, of course, prevented the devil from returning to his devilish figure.  Eventually, Jack thought better of keeping the devil as a coin and agreed to allow him to return to his normal shape.  The devil agreed not to bother Jack for an entire year and if Mr. Stingy died, he would not take his soul back to purgatory.

After a year free from the devil, Jack tried his luck again by tricking this head demon up a tree in order to gather a piece of fruit.  While the devil was sorting through the apples in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk, thus preventing the devil from coming back down.  When the devil pleaded with Jack, the latter struck a hard bargain that the devil couldn’t bother Jack for a decade.  Right after this latest deal was struck, Jack kicked the bucket.

God was horrified that Jack came knocking at the Pearly Gates, after all that double dealing with the devil he’d done.  The devil, on the other hand, was also ticked off at Jack and wouldn’t even allow Jack into Hell.  So, poor stingy Jack was sent off into the dark of the Irish night and Limbo, with only a burning coal to light his way.  Because he got tired of holding the red hot piece of coal, which must have burned his hand even though he was dead, he carved out a large turnip he dug up along the way, then stuck the coal in it and wandered off to roam the earth.

A ghostly figure has been seen often in Ireland and the people there referred to it as Jack of the Lantern, then shortened the name to Jack O’Lantern.  Villagers in both Scotland and Ireland began to create their own Jack O’Lanterns.  They would carve up potatoes and turnips into scary faces and put them on a window ledge or near the door to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away.  In England, folks used large beets and they must have taken a while to carve because beets are tough when raw.  When Irish, Scottish and English immigrants entered the US, they brought the tradition with them.

In America, these immigrants used the pumpkin and this was so much easier to carve, and a much larger Jack O’Lantern became a favorite at Halloween.  Pumpkins are now grown that weigh hundreds of pounds, but the normal weight is from half a pound to perhaps 5 pounds.  Many “pick your own” pumpkin fields spring up seasonally across the country so that entire families can choose one, or several pumpkins to carve.  Always resourceful, modern Americans use the seeds and roast them in the oven.  They also use pulp to make pies, but as it’s hard to get out, some entrepreneurial souls started to puree and cook it and put it into cans for the consumer.   Jack O’Lanterns can be lit by a candle, electric candle, or small light bulb.  Much better than that hot coal which Stingy Jack used…