Jack’s Lantern – a tale of a Halloween favorite

Brandie Richardson

When people think of Halloween traditions, one of the first things that comes to mind is pumpkin carving.

Every October stores fill with pumpkins, pumpkin patches pop up all over town and candle light pumpkins, known as Jack-o-Lanterns line doorsteps from town to town.

The trend has been around for hundreds of years, originating in Ireland, where beets and turnips were used to carve designs that represented the spirits. Candles were put inside them to ward off the evil spirits from their homes.

Irish immigrants eventually made their way to America in the 1800s, bringing their traditions with them. Pumpkins were found to be much easier and bigger to use than turnips, thus creating the present custom of carving Jack-o-Lanterns every year.

But where did the term “Jack-o-Lantern” come from, and who is Jack?

According to old Irish folklore, an Irish drunk known as “Stingy Jack” invited the Devil to have a drink with him in a local pub. When it came time to pay for their drinks, Jack, being the stingy person he was, didn't want to pay, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that he could use to pay their bill. Instead of paying, Jack pocketed the coin next to a silver cross, which blocked the Devil from turning back into his human form. Eventually Jack freed him, but not before making him promise not to take his soul for the next ten years.

Many years later Jack tricked the Devil again by asking him to climb a tree to fetch an apple for him. Once he was all the way up in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree, preventing the Devil from coming down. Once again, Jack made him promise not to take his soul for another ten years. Shortly after Jack died. God would not allow him into Heaven as he was not worthy of entering Heaven's gates. Jack then went to visit the Devil at the gates of Hell, but he wouldn’t allow him in either as he was keeping his promise not to take his soul. Instead, the Devil gave Jack a burning coal from Hell to light his way. It is said that Jack put the burning coal into a carved out turnip to light his way as he roams the earth for all eternity, creating the term “Jack of the Lantern,” which eventually got shortened to the term used today, “Jack-o-Lantern.”