History of the Jack-O’-Lantern

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While celebrating the Halloween season, there’s no better way than visiting a pumpkin patch in Las Vegas. But few who visit know why the carved and lit pumpkins are called jack-o’-lantern. Surprisingly, the story originated in long ago Ireland.

Stingy Jack

In the Irish myth, it’s said that Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Rather than pay, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin. But rather than use it to pay, jack held onto the coin, keeping it next to a silver cross and preventing the Devil from changing back to his demonic form. Though he eventually freed the Devil, Jack made him promise to leave him alone for a year and to not claim his soul should he die. When the year passed, Jack again tricked the Devil, making him promise to leave Jack alone for another ten years.

Jack of the Lantern

During this period, Jack died. Due to his unsavory character, however, he was not allowed into Heaven. For his part, the Devil also refused Jack entry into Hell, instead sending him out into the night to wander the Earth with only a single burning coal for light. Jack put the coal into a hallowed out turnip and has been wandering the night ever since. At first, the Irish people referred to him as Jack of the Lantern, eventually shortening it to “Jack O’ Lantern.”

Bring on the Pumpkins

Throughout what would later be Great Britain, Jack’s legend grew, with the people of Scotland and Ireland carving faces into turnips and potatoes, lighting them, and placing them in windows to scare away wandering Jack and others of his scary ilk, while in England they turned to large beets for the task. When people from these lands immigrated to the New World, they brought along with them the legend of Stingy Jack of the Lantern. The newly discovered pumpkin, with its much larger shape, was soon pulled into service to create a larger, and one would hope more effective, jack-o’-lantern than was ever seen in the Old World, one that was sure to frighten away all manner of an evil spirit. So this year, when you carve your pumpkin, remember the tale of Stingy Jack, the man who cheated to Devil only to be forced to wander the world for the rest of his days.

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