Irish Myth Gave Birth to the Scary Jack-O-Lantern

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Growing up in an Irish family one hears their fair share of myths, and the jack-o-lantern is one of the scarier stories. The centuries-old practice of carefully carving pumpkins into scary decorations is common in October. Immigrants brought the tradition with them when they came to America.

Originally, large turnips and potatoes were used to create the ghoulish decorations. Candles were put into the hollowed out vegetables then placed in windows and doorways to frighten off evil spirits who wandered at night.

The myth’s protagonist is a drunkard nicknamed Stingy Jack. As the story goes, Jack, who loved alcoholic beverages, invited the Devil to join him for drinks but when it came time to pay, Jack refused. The sly Irishman convinced Satin to turn himself into a coin.

However, Jack decided to keep the coin instead. He placed it in his pocket next to his silver cross. The cross prevented the Devil from returning to his original form.

After some time, Jack freed Satin on the condition that he did not bother Jack for a year and in the event of his death the Devil would not take his soul. The next year, Jack decided to play another trick on the Devil.

He asked the Devil to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit. However, the trickster carved the sign of a cross into the tree so Satin could not come down. Once again, the Irishman proposed a bargain. He wanted to be free of the Devil’s presence for another decade.

Stingy Jack died soon thereafter. God would not allow such an unsavory man into Heaven, and Satin was miffed by the tricks Jack played on him. So, he kept his word not to claim Jack’s soul and refused to allow him into hell. Instead, he gave the trickster a piece of burning coal to give him some light as he wandered into the night.

Jack hollowed out a large turnip and placed the coal inside creating a lantern to light his way. According to the legend, he still roams the Earth.

“The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack of the Lantern, and then simply Jack O’Lantern,” according to the History website.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

History.com: History of the Jack O’ Lantern
Celtic Thunder: History of the Jack-O-Lantern
Encyclopedia Britannica: Jack-o’-lantern

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