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The Story of Jack 'O Lantern

The Story of Jack 'O Lantern

     Pumpkins are carved into Jack O'Lanterns for Halloween. We bake them into Pumpkin pie. Tales of terror have used pumpkins to create an eerie atmosphere. How did the pumpkin become associated with Halloween? Well the answer is in the tale of an unfortunate soul named Jack. Here are just a couple of variations of the story.

      Legend tells us that a blacksmith named Jack made a pack with the Devil, giving his soul in return for mastery of his trade. One day, a saint named Peter came to Jack and offered him three wishes, hoping that he would choose wisely and save his soul. Jack instead used the tree wishes to trick the devil. When his time on earth was up, neither God nor the Devil would have anything to do with him. So, Jack scooped up some coal from  the fires of Hell and placed them in the turnip that he was carrying. He uses the lantern to light his way, and roams the earth until his judgment day.

     The jack-o'-lantern once took the form of a carved turnip, the favored vegetable in Europe. The tradition was brought to America in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. Since there was a lack of turnips in America and pumpkins were plentiful, the pumpkin was used instead.

      According to Irish folklore, a man named Jack, well known for his drunkenness and quick temper, got very drunk at a local pub on All Hallows Eve. As his life began to slip away the Devil appeared to claim Jack's soul. Jack, eager to stay alive, begged the Devil to let him have just one more drink before he died. The Devil agreed. Jack was short of money and asked the Devil if he wouldn't mind assuming the shape of a sixpence so Jack could pay for the drink. After the transaction the Devil could change back.

     Seeing how the Devil is quite gullible in almost all of these folk tales, he agreed again to help Jack out and changed himself into a sixpence. Jack immediately grabbed the coin and shoved it into his wallet, which just happened to have a cross-shaped catch on it. The Devil now imprisoned in the wallet screamed with rage and ordered Jack to release him.

     Jack agreed to free the Devil from his wallet if the Devil agreed not to bother Jack for a whole year. Again, the Devil agreed to Jack's terms. Realizing he now had a new lease on life, at least for a year, Jack decided to mend his ways. For a time Jack was good to his wife and children and began to attend church and give charity. Eventually Jack slipped back into his evil ways. The next All Hallows Eve, as Jack was heading home, the Devil appeared and demanded that Jack accompany him. Once again Jack, not too eager to die, distracted the devil by pointing to a nearby apple tree. Jack convinced the Devil to get an apple out of the tree and even offered to hoist the Devil up on his shoulders to help him get the apple. The Devil fooled once again by Jack, Climbed into the tree and plucked an apple. Jack took out a knife and carved a cross into the trunk of the tree. Trapped once again the Devil howled to be released, and told Jack he would give him 10 years of peace in exchange for his release. Jack, on the other hand, insisted the Devil never bother Jack again. The Devil agreed and was released.

     Almost a year later, Jack's body was unable to keep up with his evil ways and Jack died. When Jack tried to enter Heaven he was told that because of his meanness he would not be allowed into Heaven. When Jack attempted to gain entry into Hell, the Devil, still smarting from years of humiliation refused Jack admission. However, being the kind Devil that he was, the Devil threw Jack a piece of coal to help Jack find his way in the dark of limbo. Jack put the piece of coal into a turnip and it became known as a jack-o-lantern.

     On All Hallows Eve if you look you can still see Jack's flame burning dimly as he searches for a home.


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