The legend of Jack O’Lantern is an old Irish story of a character named Stingy Jack and is the reason why we carve pumpkins at Halloween.
The story takes place hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Stingy Jack was an old farmer who enjoyed hard drinking, gambling and playing tricks on family and friends. However, his most famous trick was on the Devil.
It was whilst in a local pub that Stingy Jack came upon the Devil and they sat down to have a drink together. Yet when it came to the time to pay Stingy Jack refused. Instead he tricked he Devil into turning himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. As soon as the Devil was a shiny sixpence, Jack took the coin and hid it in his pocket. As fortune would have it he also kept a small silver cross in the same pocket, which trapped the Devil and stopped him from turning back into his original form.
However, temptation proved to great for Stingy Jack and he struck a deal with the Devil. Jack would release him as long as the Devil would not claim his soul for ten years.The deal was struck and the Devil escaped.
Ten years passed and, as agreed, Stingy Jack had not heard anything from the Devil. However, one day as he was walking through his fields the Devil appeared again and demanded his soul. Jack agreed that the Devil could take his soul, but on one condition. Before he went with him, Jack wanted the Devil to climb a nearby apple tree and pick him an apple from the highest branch.
The Devil agreed and started to climb the tree. As soon as his feet had left the ground Stingy Jack quickly carved crosses into the bark of the trunk, trapping the Devil once again. This time Jack made the Devil agree that he would only release him if he promised not to take his soul when he died. The Devil agreed and left Jack to live out the rest of his life.
Time passed and eventually Stingy Jack died. However, when he reached Heaven because of his less than clean living past Saint Peter would not allow Jack into Heaven. Instead he was turned away and sent down to Hell. On reaching Hell Jack once again met the Devil, who good to his word would not accept Jack’s soul.
This left Jack in a predicament. Not being allowed into either Heaven or Hell he was left to wander the Earth for the rest of time. However, the road back was dark and taking some pity on him, the Devil handed Jack a burning ember from the fires of Hell to light his way. So as not to burn his hands, Jack carved a lantern for the ember out of turnip and started his long journey.
Ever since that day, the ghostly figure of Jack has been roaming the Earth with his lantern and has become to be known as “Jack of the Lantern” or “Jack O’Lantern”.
To ward off this unhappy spirit, people in Ireland, Scotland and England carved scary faces into turnips, potatoes and beets. These would be placed in windows and doors to ward off the spirit of Jack O’Lantern and other spirits that wandered the Earth at the time of All Hallows Eve (what we now call Halloween).
The tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns started in America, when Irish immigrants brought this tradition with them.