A Brief History of the Jack-O-Lantern

posted: 10/26/16
by: Kelly McClure
Jack-o-Lantern in a window
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Jack-o-Lantern in a window

The tradition of carving pumpkins into an end result formally referred to as a "jack-o-lantern" has been carried over for generation after generation, but what's the story behind it? The name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who one night decided it would be a good idea to invite the Devil to have a drink with him. When it came time to pay his tab, Stingy Jack (hence the name) found that he didn't have any money in his pocket so he asked the Devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to pay for the booze. Instead of using the money to pay his debt, Jack kept it and stored it near a cross so that the coin couldn't turn back into the Devil. Eventually Jack let the Devil back out and made him promise that he wouldn't try to take his soul, no matter how mad he was at Jack for his betrayal of their original bargain. You can probably guess already that this story doesn't end well.

Later in life, when Jack died, his soul was banished from both Heaven, and Hell because God and the Devil were upset over his life-long trickery and stingy ways. His spirit was doomed to an eternity of wandering in purgatory carrying a lantern made out of a carved out turnip with a piece of burning coal inside. People in surrounding towns took up the practice of placing similar lanterns in their windows to keep his, and other spirits away. This lantern was referred to as a "jack-o-lantern" and the turnip was changed to a pumpkin once the story and the tradition made its way over to America.

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