Every October, for centuries, Jack O’ Lanterns, or carved pumpkins, make an appearance on the doorsteps and porches around America and other parts of the world. Ghoulish faces, ghosts, and the scariest faces one can carve is illuminated by candles as a sign Halloween is near. The name “Jack O’ Lanterns” is derived from an Irish folktale about a man whose was Stingy Jack. The carved pumpkins originated in Ireland, but in that time, it was large turnips or potatoes for a canvas.
The Folktale known only as “Stingy Jack”
There is an Irish myth about a man whose nickname was “Stingy Jack“. According to this legend, Stingy Jack invited the devil to a local pub to have a drink with him. But, Stingy Jack known for not paying his tab. True to his name, Stingy Jack, convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so they could buy their drinks. Instead, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his back pocket next to a silver cross. The coin, which was the Devil, could not change back into his original form because of that silver cross next to him. Eventually, Stingy Jack freed the Devil, under two conditions, the Devil could not bother him for one year and should Jack die he could not claim his soul. The following year, again, Jack tricked the Devil. This time having the Devil climb into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. But, while the Devil was in the tree, Stingy Jack, carved a cross into the tree’s bark preventing the Devil from leaving the tree. Jack promised to release the Devil if he did not bother him for ten years.
Jack O’ Lantern
It was not long after that last trick that Stingy Jack died. The folktale says that, God would not take such an unsavory figure into his kingdom of heaven. The Devil, still upset with the dirty tricks Jack did, kept his word and did not claim his soul. Instead, the Devil sent Stingy Jack off into the dark night with only one burning coal to light his way. With that lump of coal, Jack, put it into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth freely ever since. That is when the Irish began to refer to his ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” which later became “Jack O’ Lantern.”
As the folk story spread across Ireland and then Scotland, people began creating their own versions of Jack’s lanterns. They would carve out scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them near their doors and windows as a way to frighten off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits roaming free. In England, they used large beets to create their own versions of Jack O’ Lantern. As immigrants from these countries began making their way to the United States, they soon found a fruit native to America, pumpkins and so the Jack O’ Lanterns were created.
Today, the story of how Jack O’ Lantern or Stingy Jack has lost. It became a tradition, young ones go out into pumpkin fields, pick, carve, paint pumpkins and place on their doorsteps. It is now more a tradition of having the cutest or scariest pumpkins in the neighborhood. Many people do not see them as warning off evil spirits but, as a sign that Halloween is near.