Every October, the carved pumpkins are placed on doorsteps all over the United States and various parts of the world. The gourd-like orange fruits which are engraved with ghoulish faces and also illuminated by candles are sure signs of the Halloween season. This practice of adorning “jack-o’-lanterns”—its name comes from an old Irish folktale about a young man known as Stingy Jack—originated in the Republic of Ireland, where large potatoes and turnips were served. The Irish immigrants brought this tradition to America, the home of the pumpkin. Today, it has become an integral part of the Halloween festivities.
The legend of Stingy Jack
Individuals have been creating jack-o’-lanterns during Halloween for centuries now. The practice started from an Irish myth about one man who was nicknamed “Stingy Jack.”
The story stated that Stingy Jack summoned the Devil to come and share a drink with him. As his implied, Stingy Jack didn’t plan to pay for the drink, so he persuaded the Devil to change into a coin so that he could use to buy their drinks. When the Devil did so, Stingy Jack decided to withhold the money and keep it in his pocket close to a silver cross. The cross prevented the Devil from going back to his original form.
Jack finally freed the Devil and gave him a condition that he wouldn’t bother him for one year, and if Jack dies, he wouldn’t claim his soul. The following year, Jack again deceived the Devil into climbing a tree to pluck a piece of fruit. When he was on the tree, Jack went ahead to carve a cross sign into the tree’s bark, and this also prevented the Devil from coming down. He made the Devil promised not to bother him again for another ten years.
Soon after, Stingy Jack died, and as the legend goes, God didn’t allow such a nasty figure into the pearly gates. The Devil, angered by the trick Jack played on him and also keeping his word that he would not claim his soul, refused to allow Jack into hell. Finally, the Devil sent Jack into the night and gave him only a burning coal as a lamp to light his way. Stingy Jack placed the coal into the carved-out turnip. He has roamed the Earth ever since. The Irish people began to call this ghostly figure “Jack of the Lantern.” It was later shortened to “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Scotland and Ireland, people began to create their versions of Jack’s lanterns and did so by carving scary faces into potatoes or turnips and placing them on windows or near the doors to frighten Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away. In England, people use large beets. Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought this jack o’lantern tradition when they visited the United States. Soon, they discovered that pumpkins were native to America, and also make excellent jack-o’-lanterns.