The Legend of the Jack O’Lantern

Halloween Traditions

Carving pumpkins is one of my most favorite of Halloween traditions. Whether the design is simple or intricate, they are all fun and beautiful in their own way. Carved and illuminated pumpkins create an atmosphere that just screams Halloween, and people around the world have been carving pumpkins for centuries.

But do you know how the tradition came about?

The Legend of the Jack O’Lantern

It was a dark night in Ireland, and the bitter wind whistled through the trees. The moon shone bright in the sky casting eerie shadows through the branches and onto the root-knotted path. The man called Stingy Jack made his way to the local pub. As he walked along, he met the Devil and invited him to have a drink with him. Living up to his nickname, Jack did not want to pay for the drinks. He convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay the barkeep. The Devil liked the idea of free drinks and did as Jack asked. But once he had done so, Jack decided to keep the coin and placed it in his pocket next to a silver cross, where the Devil was caught and unable to change back into his original form. Jack eventually bargained with the Devil, freeing him under the condition that he would leave Jack in peace and not bother him for one year, and if Jack should die during that year, the Devil could not claim his soul.

A year went by and Jack met the Devil again, this time in an orchard. Jack asked the Devil to climb an apple tree to pick them some fruit to eat. But again Jack’s intentions were not what they seemed. While the Devil was up the tree picking the fruit, Jack carved the sign of the cross into the tree’s bark, thereby trapping the Devil in the branches. Having tricked the Devil a second time, Jack decided he had better make a larger bargain. He did not allow the Devil to come down until the Devil had promised not to bother Jack for ten more years and, as before, the Devil could not claim Jack’s soul if he should die.

However, Jack did not live ten more years; he died shortly after. As the legend goes, when Jack arrived at the Pearly Gates, God would not allow such an unsavory character entrance to Heaven. The Devil, upset and twice tricked by Jack, kept his word and did not claim Jack’s soul. He would not allow Jack into Hell. Instead, he doomed Jack to wander the Earth forever looking for a place to rest and sent him out into the dark night. The Devil, still angry, threw a burning coal from Hell at the man who dared deceive him. Jack placed the coal into a hollowed-out turnip to light his way and began his roaming. The ghostly figure with the glowing light was often seen by the Irish who began to call him, Jack of the Lantern, and then, simply, Jack O’Lantern.

The Irish people began carving their own versions of Jack’s lanterns using turnips and potatoes. They would carve scary faces in them and set them into windows and near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil wandering spirits. The tradition spread to Scotland, and then to England where large beets were carved. Immigrants of these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition to the United States, where they soon discovered that pumpkins, a native fruit to North America, made for a perfect jack o’lantern.

My family is doing some pumpkin carving this afternoon and evening.

Check back tomorrow to see pictures of our Jack O’Lanterns!

Leave me a COMMENT and tell us about your carved pumpkins or give us a link to a picture.

Stumble It!

~ by bloggingexperiments on October 26, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Legend of the Jack O’Lantern”

  1. I never knew any of this. Wow! Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Every year we have our son pick out a big pumpkin and two smaller ones. I have him pick out a pattern and I carve the pumpkin. I’ve done Jango Fett, Power Rangers, Darth Vader and skeletons. My son has always loved pumpkin time! (Halloween)
    We went on a nature walk yesterday and much to our surprise they had decorated the trail for Halloween. We had so much fun, the only thing missing was a Jack O Lantern.
    Feel free to check out our pics

  2. Betty-

    I’m glad you enjoyed the Legend of the Jack O’Lantern! I had a great time researching and writing it. I stopped by your blog, read about your walk, and looked at the pics…what fun!

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