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Jack O’Lantern: the Halloween Legend!

4 min read

The Irish brought the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack O’Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin, because they did not exist in Ireland. Ancient Celtic cultures in Ireland carved turnips on All Hallow’s Eve, and placed an ember in them, to ward off evil spirits.
The origin of Halloween has its roots in the Roman or Celtic festivals, and in the beginning was the Celtic New Year, the “Samhain”, which is celebrated between October 31st and November 1st, or the Parentalia festival, in which the Romans remembered their deads. In many cultures this period is identified with the end of the summer season and the beginning of winter. Whatever its origin, the Halloween pumpkin is one of the recurrent symbols in the world, but not everyone knows why it is cut and placed a candle inside.
The purpose of the pumpkin is to keep away the ghost of Stingy Jack, who wanders desperately since he was driven out of Hell by the Devil.

Jack O’Lantern legend date back hundreds of years ago in Irish History, and there are lot of stories, about it. This is the most popular:

Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who took pleasure in playing tricks on just about everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself! He was famous for cheating his countrymen and even more famous for his good nights at the tavern. One dark, Halloween night, Jack was drunken and wandered the Irish countryside, when the devil stood in front of him. The man understood that his time had come, but he made a proposal to the devil: offering his soul in exchange for one last drink, and then reach the Underworld. They drank all night but when it was time to pay, the man asked the Devil to offer him a drink. The Devil quickly turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender, but Jack immediately snatched the coin and deposited it into his pocket, next to a silver cross that he was carrying.
The devil was trapped and Jack, amazed by the fortuitous circumstance, refused to allow the Devil to go free until the Devil had promised not to claim Jack’s soul for ten years. The Devil agreed, and ten years later Jack again came across the Devil while out walking, drunken, on a country road.
The Devil tried collecting what he was due, but Jack thinking quickly, and according to the ritual of the last desire, he asked the Devil if he could climb up on an apple tree, to take one last fruit to eat. Also this time the Devil did not excel in cunning, and went up.
So, after the Devil climbed up the tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed a cross around the trunk of the tree. Unable to touch a cross, the Devil was stuck in the tree. So, Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses, and the Devil climbed down out of the apple tree.
When Stingy Jack eventually passed away several years later, he went to the Gates of Heaven, but was refused entrance because of his life of drinking and because he had been so tight-fisted and deceitful. So, Jack then went down to Hell to see the Devil and find out whether it were possible to gain entrance into the depths of Hell, but the Devil kept the promise that had been made to Jack years earlier, and would not let him enter.
Now Jack was scared . He had nowhere to go, and he asked the Devil how he could leave, as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell, to help Stingy Jack light his way. Jack had a Turnip with him. It was one of his favorite foods, and he always carried one with him, whenever he could steal one. Jack hollowed out the Turnip, and placed the ember the Devil had given him, inside the turnip. From that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way with only his “Jack O’Lantern”, his lit turnip to light the way in the darkness.

This legend was first published by the Dublin Penny Journal during the Halloween of 1835. Two years later, the Limerick Chronicle published an article about a contest for the “Best Crown of Jack McLantern.” The term “McLantern” appeared once again in 1841. According to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the carving of the lanterns began in Ireland and Scotland and later arrived in England.
On all Hallow’s eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets and they placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. Do you remember? These were the original Jack O’Lanterns!
In the 1800’s a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America, and quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns!


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