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The Story of Stingy Jack and The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

Updated on October 12, 2008

The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O'Lantern to America

The original Jack O'Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O'Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who loved playing tricks on anyone and everyone. family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One dark, Halloween night, Jack ran into the Devil himself, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. 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 let the Devil down.

Of Course, the Devil being the Devil...

Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He 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.

"But where can I go?" asked Jack.

"Back to where you came from!" replied the Devil.

Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. The way back was windy and very dark. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil, as a final gesture, tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. From that day forward, Stingy Jack has been doomed to roam the earth without a resting place and with only his lit turnip (or his "Jack O'Lantern") to light the way in the darkness.

The Jack (or Keeper) of the Lantern

If you get lost in the mists on a dark night, or if it's a new moon, you may see Jack's lantern, wandering through the mists and darkness. Be sure not to follow, for he's a restless and evil soul; harm would surely come to you, and you would be lost to this world.

And on Halloween, when the veil between the worlds is thin, and evil spirits roam the world, decent and honest people need to protect themselves, to ward off harm. - What better ward than a Jack-O-Lantern?

For the evil spirits fear Jack, and will be warned away by his light. Even Jack O'Lantern himself will back away. For the sight of a lantern, so like to his own lantern that burns with the eternal embers of Hell, will put the fear in him, of what he's become.

The lighted lanterns keep the evil spirits at bay, so maybe Jack O'Lantern brought some good to the world, in spite of himself.

The Evolution to the Pumpkin

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. These were the original Jack O'Lanterns. In the 1800's a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O'Lanterns.

Giant Flaming Jack 'O Lantern

Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze Festival

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