The Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern

Posted on Oct 20, 2010 under ARCHIVES | 2 Comments

In America, carving pumpkins at Halloween is as much a part of the tradition as dressing in costumes and Trick or Treating.  Yet few know how this came about and why we carve pumpkins.  We place them on doorsteps, tables and in windows.  The carvings have gone from a standard frowning or smiling face to quite elaborate art work!

How It All Began:

As Legend has it, Stingy Jack, a farmer/drunk, used a cross to trap the Devil. Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn’t get down.

Another version says that Jack was being chased by some villagers whom he had stolen from. He met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. Jack stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn himself into a coin then he would use the coin to pay for stolen goods. But, when the Coin disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it.

The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin.  Jack placed the coin in his pocket next to a cross that he had picked up in the village.  The cross stripped the Devil of all his powers. Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees Never to Take his Soul.

Eventually, Jack does die but his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; The Devil had promised not to take Jack’s soul, and therefore he was barred from hell! Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light. The Devil, mockingly, tossed him an ember that would never burn out as it was from flames of hell.  Jack carved out one of his turnips and placed the ember inside it. From that time on, Jack would wander endlessly looking for a resting place. He became known as “Jack of the Lantern“, or Jack-o’-Lantern.

Other Legend Variations:

Some versions include a “wise and good man”, or even God helping Jack to prevail over the Devil.

Jack is considered a greedy man and is not allowed into either heaven or hell, without any mention of the Devil.

In another variation, God gave Jack the turnip

Jack tricks the Grim-Reaper into giving him eternal life, and in exchange, the reaper takes his head to hell with him. Jack then wanders the earth using a carved pumpkin for a head.

An African-American variant holds that Jack, called Big Sixteen, actually killed the Devil and was later refused entry to hell by the Devil’s widow.

Despite the many legends, the term jack-o’-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern. The Earliest being in the 17th century.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.  In England, large beets were used.

As Immigrants arrived in the United States they brought their traditions with them.  They soon discovered a fruit native to America – the pumpkin and realized they were perfect for their Jack O’ Lanterns. Thus the pumpkin has been used ever since.

Below I have listed some fun sites for you to explore more information on Halloween, Pumpkins, Hauntings.  Have a Safe and Fun Halloween!

The History Channel

Pumpkin Patterns

The Discovery Channel

How to Carve a Pumpkin

Also,  My Many Thanks to Wikipedia for valuable information:

Jack O Lanterns


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2 Responses to “The Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern”

  1. Nancy Radlinger Says:

    WOW I can’t believe what I learn by reading your blog post – keep up the great work – I love coming here

    Skype: nancyradlinger

  2. ellent Says:

    Thank you so much, Nancy. You’re my biggest fan and I’m glad! I love Halloween and enjoy giving out little informative things about the terrific holiday. Thank you so much for your comment

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