Jack O’ Lantern Pumpkins Are Rooted In An Irish Legend
Each October, carved pumpkins decorate the doorsteps of millions of people in the US and worldwide that are celebrating Halloween. We also know them as Jack-o’-lanterns. But where did this custom come from?
Being a holiday drawn from Christian and Celtic traditions, Halloween is rooted in both of the two cultures. In the Gaelic speaking regions, like Ireland and Scottish Highlands, Halloween was actually the festival of Samhain, which was believed to be a time when the souls of the dead wandered the earth.
This belief was also found in Christianity for the same date.
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But how is this all connected to our tradition of making carved pumpkins for Halloween?
The popular making of custom carved lanterns started in 19th century in Ireland. The lanterns were supposedly made to represent the spirits or supernatural beings and had a function of keeping the evil spirits away from one’s home.
Some even suggest that jack-o-lanterns originally represented Christian souls in purgatory, as Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day (1 November).
This custom is actually rooted in an Irish legend about a guy named Jack dating far back in the 16th century.
The legend is built around a story of Stingy Jack, a blacksmith that invited the devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks and convinced the devil to transform himself into a coin so that he could pay their order.
The devil did what the blacksmith told him, but Jack didn’t pay the bill and put the devil-coin in his pocket next to a silver cross which would keep the devil out from returning to his original form.
Jack did eventually release the devil but made him promise that he wouldn’t revenge for what Jack did and wouldn’t take him to hell when he died.
Still Jack fooled the devil once again by convincing him to climb up a tree and carving a cross in the tree trunk so that the devil couldn’t get down again. Stingy Jack set him free again, on the same conditions he asked the devil before.
When Jack died, God didn’t want him in heaven, and the devil kept his promise and didn’t allow him into hell either. Instead, the devil gave him a burning coal to light his way and sent him to roam into the night to “find his own hell”.
Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and has been wandering around the earth ever since.
In Ireland, the ghost lights seen in the swamps were interpreted as Jack’s lantern and he and the spooky lights were named “ Jack of the Lantern” or “Jack o’ Lantern”.
This tale spread across the British island and kids started making the custom lanterns out of turnips or potatoes, in order to trick friends and visitors into thinking they were Stingy Jack or another lost soul.
The carving of the vegetables and the prank connected to it got absorbed in the US and worldwide. In the US it was found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.
That’s how carved pumpkins became the symbol of Halloween, and we owe this scary, but amusing practice to the Irish and their legend of Stingy Jack.