Oct 31, 2012

A Potato Jack o' lantern?

By Jill Burgoyne

One of my all time favorite traditions of Halloween is carving the Jack O' Lanterns. Growing up, every Monday before Halloween, my mother would buy us each a pumpkin. My father would cut open the tops and then the scraping of slippery, stringy pumpkin goo would commence.

When the pumpkins passed cleaning inspection, we drew on them with markers, indicating where our parents should cut with a knife. (That is, until we were strong enough to cut our own faces.) We would then place a candle inside, light it, and leave it on the doorstep.

Although pumpkins are very American, the carving of Jack o' lanterns actually originated in Ireland. True to most traditions, this one is linked to a legend. This one, about a man named Stingy Jack.

Stingy Jack is said to have invited the devil out for a drink, but Jack didn't want to pay, so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay with. When the devil was a coin, Jack put it in his pocket next to a silver cross, preventing the devil from turning back into himself. Eventually, Stingy Jack made a deal with the devil. If Jack let the devil change from a coin, then the devil would have to leave Jack alone for one year AND never claim Jack's soul. The devil agreed.

A year later, Stingy Jack was hanging out with the devil again, and he convinced the devil to climb an apple tree. When the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross in the bark, preventing the devil from coming down. Before the devil could come down, he had to promise Jack to leave him alone for ten more years. The devil promised. Jack let him go. Then Jack died the next year.

Seeing the unsavory character that was Stingy Jack (and all the hanging out he did with the wrong company)- he was not admitted into heaven. But the devil: being true to his word also refused to claim his soul. The devil; however, did give Jack one coal to light his way as he roams the earth. Jack carved out a turnip to put the coal in and the ghostly figure became referred to as "Jack of the Lantern" and now: "Jack o' lantern".

The Irish began to carve scary faces into turnips and potatoes to keep "Jack o' lantern" away from their houses. Irish immigrants discovered that turnips were not so prevalent here and, they began to use pumpkins. And that is how the tradition came to be as it is today.

Cited: History.com


  1. I love learning new things. I especially love learning about the story behind the story. I'm excited to share this with my kids and grans! thanks!

  2. Bravo. I've heard that story before, but with different twists, but I did know about the turnip.


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