Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without the beloved jack-o’-lantern. Whether you’re known for carving the most grotesque faces, you’re switching to pineapples this year, or you’re sticking with classic country music star designs for your carving, a Halloween pumpkin is a tradition that brings the whole family together for All Hallow’s Eve. Have you ever wondered about the history of the jack-o’-lantern, and why we carve them every single year?
Well, like many traditions, it begins with a bit of folklore from Ireland. In the case of the jack-o-lantern, we have to go back centuries to the Irish folktake of Stingy Jack that made its way to Scotland, England, and the United States when Irish immigrants brought the Irish myth with them. A spooky tale not for the faint of heart, Stingy Jack begins with a little trickery…
The Fate of Stingy Jack
One cold night, a drunkard by the name of Stingy Jack invited the Devil out for a drink. Jack, being the swindler that he was, had no intentions on paying his tab. Instead, Jack convinced the Devil that he should turn himself into a coin. Once the tab was paid, he could simply turn himself back.
Agreeing, the Devil transformed into a coin. But little did the Devil know it was all a rouse. See, old Stingy Jack had a plan up his sleeve. Rather than paying up, he stuck the coin into his pocket. And what was next to that coin? A crucifix. The Devil was trapped, but not for long. Jack agreed to let the Devil out if he would leave him alone for ten years. The Devil agreed.
The years went by and the two crossed paths again. Jack knew the Devil had come for him. Trying to avoid his fate, Jack asked the Devil if he would pluck an apple from a tree to feed him before he went. In agreement, he climbed up in the tree, and as he did, Jack carved in it a crucifix. Trapped again, Jack said he would let the Devil down only if he would spare Jack’s soul. Once again, the Devil agreed.
Upon Stingy Jack’s death, his unsavory actions prevented him from entering the gates of Heaven. Being barred from Hell, he was stuck. With nowhere to go, the Devil gave Jack an ember to light his way. He placed that ember inside a carved-out turnip, and to this day, his ghostly figure continues to roam between the living and the dead with no resting place.
The Irish continued the tradition of “Jack of the Lantern” with hollowed-out turnips and large beets. They would place their carvings on the doorstep in order to ward off evil spirits. Finding native pumpkins in abundance during harvest season and ideal for carving, the pumpkin jack-o’-lantern was born. The pumpkin carving would later translate to the myth of the headless horseman.
When you are carving your pumpkins or turnips this fall, remember the story of Stingy Jack. Or maybe carve him into a pumpkin!