The History of Jack-o'-Lanterns

For hundreds of years, every October, carved pumpkins have been placed in front of porches and doorsteps in the United States and many other parts of the world. The big orange-colored fruit carved with ghoulish faces and illuminated by candles is a sure indication that it’s time for the Halloween season.

Jack-o’-lanterns are a staple in every home, but they have been around for centuries. The name behind jack-o’-lanterns actually comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. The tradition of turning food into lanterns originated in Ireland and before everyone used pumpkins as lanterns, turnips and potatoes were lighted by candles until the Irish immigrants came to America, where it was home of the pumpkin, which soon became an essential part of the Halloween tradition.

The Legend Behind Jack-o’-Lanterns

The practice of carving pumpkins originated from the Irish myth about Stingy Jack, who according to the legend invited the devil to have a drink with him. As his name suggests, Stingy Jack was a very stingy man who didn’t want to pay for his drink. So, he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin and Jack could use it to buy their drinks.

Instead of buying the drinks, Jack decided to keep the coin and placed it into a pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the devil from changing back into his original state. Eventually, Jack released the devil, but only under the condition that the devil would not bother him for a whole year, and if Jack should die, the devil could not claim his soul and the devil agreed.

The following year, the devil visited Jack and once more he was tricked again. Jack tricked the devil into climbing up a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was in the tree, Jack carved a sign of a cross into the bark of the tree so that the devil could not come down until the devil promised Jack not to bother him for another 10 years.

Soon after, Jack passed away. And as the legend goes, God wouldn’t allow Jack into heaven because of how he behaved while he was on Earth. So, Jack went down to hell to visit the devil, but the devil himself, being ironically true to his word did not claim his soul and would not allow him into hell.

At this point, Jack was terrified with nowhere to go but to wander forever into the dark between heaven and hell. Jack asked the devil how he was supposed to roam the Earth without any light. For one last favor, the devil tossed him a coal from the flames of hell to light his way.

Jack’s favorite food was a turnip that he always carried with him. He hollowed out the turnip and placed the coal inside. Since then, Stingy Jack roamed the Earth without a resting place, lighting his way with his “Jack-O’-Lantern.” The Irish began to refer to the legend as the “Jack of the Lantern” and eventually became “Jack-O’-Lantern.”

How Carved Turnips Became Carved Pumpkins

Throughout Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes and placing them by their windows and doorsteps to repel Stingy Jack and other evil wandering spirits. Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition of jack-o’-lanterns with them when they came to the United States. It was then that they stumbled upon pumpkins, which is native to America and are bigger and easier to carve, making them the perfect jack-o’-lantern.

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