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The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

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by Taylor McClelland

2011 032What did the jack-o-lantern say to the pumpkin? Cut it out! Halloween is just around the corner which means costumes, haunted houses and jack-o-lanterns.

The term “jack-o-lantern” is in origin a term for the visual phenomenon ignis fatuus or foolish fire. It was thought to start back in the 1660’s. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America. The name came from an Irish Folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.

The Tale of Stingy Jack

Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who took pleasure in playing tricks on everyone. He tricked even the Devil. He tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree as Stingy Jack placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. Unable to touch a cross, the Devil was stuck in the tree. Stingy Jack made the Devil promise that he would not take his soul when he died. After the Devil promised he removed all the crosses.

Many years later, Jack died; he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was mean and cruel, and had led a miserable, worthless life on Earth. Stingy Jack was not allowed to enter Heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell.

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Now Jack was scared . He had nowhere to go, but to wander about forever in the dark Netherworld between heaven and hell. 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. 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 as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern”.

On All Hallow’s Eve, the Irish hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away.




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