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History of the Jack-o’-Lantern

Posted by admin On May - 19 - 2011ADD COMMENTS

History of the Jack-o’-Lantern


Halloween would not be complete without including the traditional carved pumpkin, more commonly known as the jack-o’-lantern. Many families make this part of their own home decorating around Halloween. In fact, it has even become part of the tradition for families to venture out to the pumpkin patch and make their selection together. Sometimes this means deciding on one monstrous fruit to slice and dice, or each member getting their own pumpkin for decorating. Though the carving and display of the pumpkin has been an annual part of people’s lives, possibly all the way back to the arrival of the first Irish Immigrants, few know the history of the jack-o’-lantern.


How the History of the Jack-o’-Lantern Came to Be


An old Irish tale of folklore tells the tale of “Stingy Jack” and the Devil and how trickery led the man to become forever famous. There are variations of the story, as tends to happen with any story passed down through the generations, but the general idea remains fairly consistent. It starts with Jack having a pint at the pub with the Devil himself. Having the nickname “Stingy Jack” obviously meant the man was always looking for a way out of paying, and so on this particular occasion he saw the Devil as a way free and clear of paying for his drink.


He asked the Devil if he would consider shifting himself into the form of a coin that could be used to square away the bill. Old Stingy offered up his soul in exchange for this deal. The Devil of course agreed and turned himself into a sixpence. Of course, once the Devil had done so, Jack got to rethinking this deal they’d made and was tempted by the feel of money in his hand, so he slipped that Devil coin into his pocket, keeping it near a silver cross so that there was no chance of a change back transformation.


After some time, Jack thought of a better deal he could strike with the Devil. He agreed to set the Devil free, as long as this demon assured Jack he would not try to steal the mortal’s soul for ten full years. Of course, the Devil obliged but was enraged with Jack for his cunning trickery, and waited for those years to pass.


At the end of the ten year spell, Jack was meandering down a lonely, road deep in the countryside, having long forgotten about his contract with the Devil. Suddenly, the Devil appeared before Jack having come to claim the soul he felt he was owed. Jack tried to delay and distract the Devil, but finally reluctantly caved in. First though, Jack requested that the Devil climb a nearby tree to snatch an apple for Jack to eat as his last meal.


Once the Devil had made his way far into the limbs, Jack quickly etched the sign of the cross into the bark of the tree trunk, capturing the Devil in the branches high above. Jack had fooled the demon, once again. He made the Devil another offer. If the Devil assured Jack his soul would remain intact and never been the Devil’s to take, Jack would set him free from the tree. Angry at being fooled again but having no other choice, the Devil went along with the deal.


When Jack finally did die and tried to enter Heaven, God wanted no part of allowing entry to this man who had demonstrated such terrible behavior while living. The Devil could not allow Jack’s soul to enter Hell and, therefore, sent Jack back to where he came from. The way was dark and Jack, unable to see his way out from Hell requested something to light his path. The Devil then tossed a hot, burning coal ember for Jack to carry. This ember would never burn out since it was from the flames of Hell.


Since the coal burnt his hands, Jack looked for a vessel to use to carry this coal and eventually came across a turnip which he carved to create a lantern. This created the legend of Jack the Lantern, also known as Jack O’Lantern.


The Aftermath


At Halloween, the Irish continued to believe the story of Jack and other wandering evil spirits and began to set out their own jack-o’-lantern turnips to ward away these apparitions. Hence the tradition was born, as was the history of the jack-o’-lantern.



Pumpkin Carving and Jack O’Lanterns

Posted by admin On May - 17 - 2011ADD COMMENTS

Pumpkin Carving

Anything goes with today’s Jack O’Lanterns.  You can download carving designs off the internet, order tools for carving, take lessons on how to carve, grow your own or pick your own pumpkins, or buy different-sized ones in the supermarket.  There are pumpkin growing contests and pumpkin launching and dropping ones, too.  A family can choose unique groupings of carved pumpkins or simply create a couple of the classic design for the front porch.  If small children are involved then care needs to be taken as pumpkins get slippery — especially their insides!


A simple way to start and then carve a design is to tape your pattern onto the front of a pumpkin then punch through the lines every quarter inch or so.  This gives the carver an outline which is visible once the pattern is removed.  When a pumpkin is bought, the carver may study it before they begin so that any character points are noticed.  And — pumpkins don’t have to be carved upright, either.  A stem that looks interesting can always be a witch’s nose, for instance.  Remove as much of the pulp beforehand and this may prevent the onset of mold.  If the Jack O’Lantern still molds — have a replacement handy.


Accessories can be used on any carved pumpkin and this just depends on what the design is.  Some pumpkins are much bigger than a person’s head but if they’re about the sane size then a few pieces of old clothing can do the trick.  Thrift stores are also great places to shop for pumpkin accessories. A few people don’t like carving so un-carved but decorated pumpkins are a viable alternative.  This is safer for young children, too.  Pumpkins vary in color and you may find gourds or pumpkins with greenish areas, or dark orange or very pale orange.  Sometimes the pumpkin will have warts and this could be a good one to make a witch from.


There are elaborate pumpkin carving contests on TV and carvers often get inspired after watching these.  Even the pros have bad days and their pumpkins could turn out to be real “lemons”!  Pumpkins are not usually available other than in the Autumn.  If a carver needs to practice then they should purchase several pumpkins in season and then try a design every now and then. Un-carved pumpkins keep for months, although it’s not good to cook them after a long period of time.  Be careful if the carved pumpkins (or whole ones) have been around your house for a while.  Sometimes they can rot and then you’re left with a pumpkin mess when it’s picked up.


Pumpkin flesh can be used in soups and pies but it is hard to prepare and much easier to buy plain pureed pumpkin at the store.  If a carver wants to try something new, the carving should be done outside because there may be an implosion and that gets messy.  Practice on an average sized pumpkin first and then design options may be expanded as the pumpkins get bigger.  Some of the designs by real artists are so elaborate, that unless a carver can see them being carved,  they would never be able to figure out how to recreate the pattern.


Lighting pumpkins is pretty easy and those flameless candles are the best.  The kind you can either recharge or plug into an outlet are the most economical, then there are small light bulbs, as well as candles.  The latter are safe if the pumpkin is isolated or not near vegetation, cloth or trick or treaters.  Ones on fence posts look good, if watched from your window.  Don’t be scared — they only come alive in those creepy Halloween movies..