This is the tale of the first Jack-O-Lantern and the man for whom they were named.
Many, many years ago, in ancient Ireland there lived a man named Jack. He was known to be miserably mean and stingy but he was known to love three things: drinking, turnips, and playing tricks on people. Every night he would make his way to the pub and drink until morning. During the day, he would take great delight in playing mean tricks on everybody, and I mean everybody. He played tricks on his neighbors, his family, even his mother. One night, on his way to the pub, he ran across a twisted body lying on the ground. As Jack was investigating the body, it moved. Slowly, the body stood up and revealed itself to be the Devil, come to collect Jack’s soul. So Jack thought quickly and asked the Devil for one last drink. The Devil quickly agreed and accompanied Jack to the pub. After the bartender gave Jack his drink, Jack turned to the Devil and asked him to pay the tab. The Devil then turned himself into a sixpence. Jack, however, acted quickly and snatched the sixpence up and put it in his coin purse where he always carried a cross. While the Devil was in contact with the cross, he could not change his form. Jack promised to release the Devil from the purse as long as he promised not to claim his prize (Jack’s soul) for 10 years. The Devil agreed and they parted ways.
Jack lived on for the next 10 years. He was happily stealing turnips, drinking nightly, and playing mean tricks on everyone. Then the fated day arrived when the Devil was coming to collect his soul. Remembering the trick that was played on him, the Devil decided to meet Jack out on the road instead of at the pub. They met under an apple tree and Jack asked for one favor before surrendering his soul, he asked the Devil to fetch him an apple from the top of the tree. The Devil, thinking that he had nothing to lose, climbed the tree to retrieve the apple. While he was climbing, Jack carved crosses into the trunk of the tree, effectively trapping the Devil in the branches. This time, in exchange for his release, the Devil promised not to take Jack’s soul when he finally died.
When Jack passed away a few years later, he went to the gates of Heaven. St. Peter refused him entrance because he had led a wicked life full of drinking and mischief, without even a single thought to charity. Jack was then sent to the gates of Hell where the Devil kept his promise to not collect his soul. “But where will I go?” asked Jack. The Devil pointed to a dark and windy path and said “back to where you came from!” Jack pleaded with the Devil to not turn him away. But the Devil wanted nothing to do with him after being tricked twice. Finally, Jack asked for one last favor, a light by which he could see to make his way home. The Devil tossed him an ember from the very pits of Hell. Jack hollowed out his last turnip and placed the ember in it as a lantern to help find his way.
From that day forward, Jack has been doomed to wandering the earth. He will never find his rest and the only thing that he has with which to light his way is a hollowed out turnip that holds a single ember from the fires of Hell.
*Now many of you may be wondering, why is the Jack-o-lantern in the story a turnip? This tradition originates from Ireland where, until fairly recently, there were no pumpkins. When the tradition of carving root vegetables reached America, we found that pumpkins and other gourds were much easier to hollow out and carve. So that is why we use pumpkins today.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share with you a creepy story from the history of Halloween. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you all have a fun and safe Halloween!*
Jack O’Lanterns and the tale of Stingy Jack from The Pumpkin Nook: http://www.pumpkinnook.com/facts/jack.htm
The Legend of Stingy Jack from Penumbra: http://www.novareinna.com/festive/jack.html
Original Irish Jack-o-Lanterns from Irish Central: http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/original-irish-jack-o-lanterns-were-truly-horrifying-and-made-of-turnips