By RANDAL C. HILL
Every Halloween, we see pumpkins aglow with light pouring through triangular eyes and jagged teeth. But did you ever wonder where the tradition came from?
The tale of the jack-o’-lantern is rooted in ancient Irish mythology, which tells the tale of a notorious drunk who lied, cheated and hoarded his money. The locals dubbed him Stingy Jack.
Lucifer had heard of Jack’s vile reputation and decided to seek him out. When they met, the con artist invited the Devil out for a drink.
True to his name, Jack claimed he was
broke when the drinking was done. The
wily scoundrel then convinced Satan to
turn himself into a coin so Jack could settle the tab. The bemused Devil complied, and Jack slipped the coin into his pocket— right next to a silver crucifix that kept Satan from transforming back into his original form. Jack then snuck out of the tavern without paying.
He eventually let Lucifer loose, but only after making him promise not to bother him for one year. And, oh yes, not to claim his soul when he died.
A year later, when the Devil returned, Jack begged for a juicy red apple. While Lucifer was climbing a tree, Jack carved the sign of the cross into the tree’s trunk. As a result, the Devil couldn’t return to solid ground until he promised once more to leave Jack alone, this time for a full decade.
Predictably, Jack wasted the next ten years drinking, causing problems and annoying people.
When he finally died and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, the good saint turned him away, so Jack wandered down to the gates of Hell. But Satan, still smarting from Jack’s previous tricks, refused him admission into Hades. After all, the Devil smugly maintained, that had been part of their original bargain.
The Devil sent Jack off to “find his
own hell” in the dark and mysterious
netherworld, giving him only a burning
chunk of coal to light the darkness. Jack
found a turnip, carved an opening in it and
placed the ember inside. Ever since that
night, Stingy Jack has been roaming the
Earth, finding neither peace nor a resting
The Irish began referring to his ghostly
figure as “Jack of the lantern,” which
eventually became “jack-o’-lantern.”
In Ireland, people began replicating Jack’s lantern by carving scary faces into turnips and other root vegetables. Eventually, migrants brought the Irish tradition to America, where they found that the native pumpkins made perfect jack-o’-lanterns.
Come Halloween, they will again stand guard, ready to ward off whatever evil spirits might be lurking about—including Stingy Jack.