The Story Behind the Jack O’ Lantern

October 31, 2015

pumpkin21Carving up a pumpkin is almost a prerequisite to having a proper Halloween.  But when those pumpkins are all done and fit with a light, why are they called jack o’ lanterns, and who is Jack?

Halloween originated in Ireland hundreds of years ago and came from a Celtic festival for the dead called “Samhain”.  Turnips and potatoes were used as the first jack o’ lanterns, but that changed when Irish immigrants brought the practice to America.  Jack o’ lanterns were then made from the plentiful pumpkin supply.

TurnipJackolantern
A Turnip Jack O’ Latern      Geni/Wikimedia

The jack o’ lantern itself originated from a myth about a man named “Stingy Jack”.  Stingy Jack invited the Devil for drinks one day, and Jack didn’t want to pay for their drinks, hence the name Stingy Jack.  He somehow convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so Jack could buy their drinks.  Being that Jack was indeed stingy, he decided to keep the coin for himself and put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross.  The devil wasn’t able to transform back to his original form because he was next to the silver cross.  Jack let the Devil go after some time and agreed to do so only if the Devil didn’t bother him for a full year, and that he wouldn’t take his soul if he died.

When the year was up, Jack managed to trick the Devil again.  This time by getting him to climb and pick fruit from a tree.  While the Devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk.  The Devil got stuck in the tree, and Jack made the Devil promise to not bother him for ten more years.

Jack died sometime after, and God decided he didn’t want someone like Jack to be allowed to enter heaven.  The Devil couldn’t claim Jack’s soul because of their deal, so Jack was forced to roam the earth forever with only a piece of burning coal to use for light.  Jack put that piece of coal in a turnip and has been roaming ever since.

The roaming figure became known as “Jack of the Lantern”, which later became Jack o’ Lantern.  The people of Ireland and Scotland began to make their own jack o’ lanterns to scare away Stingy Jack and other entities that may have been wandering around.  And that’s why we call those carved pumpkins jack o’ lanterns, and they’ve been warding off spirits on Halloween ever since.

Sources
Huffington Post
History
BBC News

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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