Carving faces onto hollowed-out pumpkins on Halloween is one of those
things we do without giving it much thought. The Jack O'Lantern makes a nice scary decoration, but have you ever thought about
why it has become a tradition?
It has been said that Jack O'Lanterns containing lit candles ward off evil
spirits. The idea that spirits roam the earth on Halloween goes back a couple of thousand years. But there's also an interesting
legend behind the carving of pumpkins.
According to Irish folklore, there was a man by the name of Stingy Jack.
He was an old farmer who was known as a drunkard and a trickster. One Halloween, he stepped out of a pub to find the Devil
waiting for him. He was there to claim Jack's soul.
Jack asked the Devil to grant him one last wish: a final drink. The Devil
told him to go get it, but Jack said he had no money. So the Devil, who could transform into anything he pleased, took the
shape of a coin. Thinking quickly, Jack put the coin into his wallet, which had a cross inside. This rendered the Devil powerless
and unable to escape.
Jack made the Devil an offer. He said that if he would agree to let him live
for another year, he would free him from his wallet. The Devil agreed, Jack freed him, and he left Jack alone.
One year later, the Devil came back for Jack. Once again, Jack tricked him.
He convinced him to climb an apple tree. While the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk. Once again,
the Devil was trapped and powerless. Jack offered to help him down if he would allow him to live for ten more years. The devil
had no choice but to accept.
When Jack died, he was not accepted into heaven because of his bad deeds.
But the Devil refused him entry to hell, because he had tricked him twice before. He threw Jack an ember. Jack carved out
a turnip and placed the ember inside to light his way while he roamed the earth for eternity.
From Turnip to Pumpkin
In the original legend, Jack used a turnip as his lantern. This vegetable
was chosen because it was so plentiful in Ireland.
But when Irish immigrants came to the United States, they found that turnips
weren't so plentiful. Pumpkins, however, were abundant. So they began to carve them out as Halloween decorations instead.
The legend of the Jack O'Lantern is a fun tale to tell on Halloween. But
it's not just another scary story. It is a traditional tale that dates back many centuries.