Jack O' Lantern 2023 - Tracing the History of a Halloween Legend
Stingy Jack and The Origin of the Jack O' Lantern
Every October, an unsuspecting pumpkin gets plucked from the sanctuary of its leafy vine and thrust onto a kitchen table.
Here, it endures a grueling transformation: its top is severed, its guts scooped out with a spoon.
But why does this happen? Why pumpkins, and not papayas or cherries?
Video: Stingy Jack | The Jack-O'-Lantern Story
Mythology Unleashed 08:00
Understanding the Origin of the Jack O'Lantern
The iconic symbol of Halloween is undoubtedly the menacingly hollowed-out Jack O'Lantern.
Also referred to as "Jack of the Lantern," the tradition originally involved carving lanterns from large turnips. In Ireland and Britain, this has long been a beloved custom. As Irish immigrants settled in North America, they encountered the versatile pumpkin. Easier to carve and offering ample room for candles and grimaces, pumpkins soon replaced turnips. Initially representing autumn in North America, the wide-grinning pumpkin face quickly became the recognizable mascot of the Halloween festival.
The Tale of Stingy Jack: Tricking the Devil
The name "Jack O'Lantern" originates from an old Irish legend. In this tale, a miserly blacksmith named Jack is visited by the devil in a pub on the eve of All Souls' Day. The Prince of Hell offers to pay for Jack's last drink in exchange for his soul.
When Jack agrees, the devil promptly transforms into a sixpence coin (the typical price for a beer at the time), which Jack swiftly stows away in his wallet. In this wallet also rests a silver cross, preventing the devil from returning to his original form.
Jack successfully negotiates a ten-year reprieve with the disgruntled devil. When Beelzebub returns to claim Jack's soul after the agreed period, Jack asks him to pick an apple from a tree. The devil, instead of pursuing Jack with his trident, inexplicably climbs the tree. Seizing this opportunity, Jack quickly carves a cross into the tree trunk, trapping the devil yet again.
This time, Jack secures complete absolution. When Jack erases the cross from the tree, the devil leaves, never to return.
Jack’s Eternal Lantern
However, Jack's victory is bittersweet. Upon his death, heaven denies him entry due to his sinful life. He then tries hell, but he's refused there too since the devil had sworn never to claim Jack's soul.
Out of pity, the devil hands Jack a glowing coal, straight from hell's fire, which Jack places in a turnip he had been carrying as sustenance. From then on, Jack wanders between realms with his turnip lantern.
Other versions suggest that Jack, feeling slighted by the devil, seeks the gate to hell with his lantern, probably to confront the devil man-to-man.
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