Halloween is a holiday well steeped in tradition. There’s the obligatory trick or treating, mandatory costuming, and my very favorite- pumpkin carving! I thought this was just a fun way to release some tension, but I found out there are far more sinister origins.
The tale of Jack O’Lantern hales from Ireland a long, long time ago. Legend has it that there was a man who folks called Stingy Jack for his penny-pinching ways. Late one evening, I imagine after he’d had a few rounds already, Jack meet up with the Devil himself. The two jolly old friends shared pint after pint as the night waned on. When it came time to pay the bill, Jack had a mischievous plan: He suggested the Devil turn himself into a coin so they could skip out on the tab. Thinking it a good joke, the drunken Devil complied with Jack’s plan and transformed himself. However, instead of paying the bill, Jack pocketed the Devil-turned-coin and vamoosed. Stingy Jack was quite clever, see, he had placed the coin next to a cross, preventing the Devil from changing back to his regular form. I’ve had some rough mornings myself, but I don’t think mine were anywhere close to how rough Jack’s hangover must have been. Upon awakening and realizing what had happened, Jack made the devil promise to not take revenge on him for one year, and to not take his soul to hell if he died. The Devil sounds like a pretty easy-going guy, because he agreed to the terms and Jack released him.
When the year was almost over, Jack and the Devil were hanging out again having a couple brewskies. Jack double dog dared the Devil to climb up a tree, and once again the Devil complied and scurried up. Quick as a fiddle, Jack carved crosses all around the trunk of that tree so that the Devil couldn’t come down. I imagine there was some back on forth at this point, some cursing perhaps. Jack made the Devil promise to leave him alone for ten years, and gave him a boost down so that he wouldn’t touch the crosses.
A few years later Ol’Stingy Jack passed away from natural causes. When he got up to heaven, God proclaimed that he didn’t want an evil trickster like Jack inside the pearly gates. Jack tried Hell next, but after all those mean pranks, the Devil wasn’t having any of it. Having no home, Stingy Jack was destined to wander the earth all by himself. He carved a face into a hollowed-out turnip to keep him company, and placed a burning coal in it to light the way.
When the Irish immigrated to America, they brought the tradition of carving faces into veggies with them. They took advantage of the bounty of pumpkins we have here, and the rest is history!