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The Story of Stingy Jack and his Lantern

It’s Halloween. A time for bobbing apples, trick or treating and asking why they always transfer Michael Myers from hospital around this spooky time.

Anyway, the annual scare-fest, known as Samhain in Celtic times, was never about evil and Jack-O-Lanterns. It was more to celebrate the end of the harvest before the onset of the dark, winter months. So, it makes you ask where Jack-O-Lanterns fit in, and how the tradition of carving a pumpkin began?

An Old Irish Legend

Jack-O-Lanterns are made by removing the pumpkin’s innards, carving the flesh and making a design of your choice. Some go for scary, while others go for silly – I know of people who have kept the insides and made puking pumpkins.

But the tradition of carving goes back many centuries, and involves a trickster and drunk, who went by the name of Jack.

Stingy Jack Tricks the Devil

The legend of Stingy Jack varies widely, depending on where you source the information, but the premise is much the same.

The story goes that, on Halloween night, Jack encountered the devil in a local public house. The devil had come to take his soul and Jack, not really wanting to go, asked the devil for one last drink. He persuaded the devil to pay, and the lord of hell duly obliged. He turned himself into a sixpence, which proved to be a mistake.

Jack grabbed the coin and placed it in his pocket, right next to a silver cross. Unable to transform back into his satanic self, the devil agreed to Jack’s demand, to leave and not return for his soul for another year. Jack released him, and the devil went back to his fiery home.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…really?

A year later the devil returned, determined not to be tricked again. This time Jack agreed to go with him, but once more had a final request. He asked for a piece of fruit from high up in a tree, and asked the devil to reach it for him.

Thinking there was no harm in doing this, the devil scrambled up the tree for the fruit. Meanwhile down below, Jack was busy carving a sign of the cross into the tree. This trapped the devil again, and Jack made him promise this time to never take his soul after he died.

The devil once again agreed, and Jack was free to carry on with his life.

What Happened to Jack?

Eventually Jack died, and he took the journey to Heaven. However, he wasn’t allowed past the Pearly Gates as God would not allow such an unsavoury character into his Kingdom.

Ultimately, Jack resigned himself to spend eternity in hell, and was soon knocking on the devil’s door. Satan answered and promptly told Jack that he was keeping his promise of never taking his soul to hell.

Jack was distraught. “Where am I to go?” he asked.

“Back to where you came from,” came the devil’s curt reply.

Jack looked around and saw that it was dark, cold and gloomy. As a last request, Jack asked for some light to show him the way. The devil reached into hell, and tossed Jack a burning ember. Destined to walk the earth forever, Jack carved out a turnip and placed the ember inside. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, which eventually became Jack-O-Lantern.

How Did Pumpkins Replace the Turnip for Halloween?

Carving faces into turnips became a tradition across Ireland to ward off Jack’s wandering spirit. However, Irish immigrants to America discovered the humble pumpkin that grew freely there.

Wanting to continue the Halloween tradition, the settlers used the pumpkins. They realised they were easier to carve, and the turnip sadly disappeared.

Stories of Stingy Jack differ from place to place, but if you look closely on Halloween night, you may just see the spooky spirit of Jack and his eerie lantern.

Have a safe and happy Halloween.

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