Thursday, 6 October 2011

Origins of the Jack O' Lantern

A turnip Jack O' Lantern.
Click for source. Labelled for reuse under
Creative Commons

Hello dear reader and welcome to my second post on Irish Halloween traditions. This time around I'm writing about Jack O' Lanterns!
I'm pretty excited to share this because it's such a cool little Irish story.

Once upon a time there lived a rather unruly character by the name of Stingy Jack. He was a terrible drunk and had a penchant for playing tricks on his family, friends and neighbours. One day Jack met the devil and struck up an interesting bargain. As you do. 

There are many variations of his encounter with the devil. One states that he managed to trap the devil up an apple tree and wouldn't let him down until he promised not to take Jack's soul upon his death. The devil agreed and Jack let him down. Another story claims that Jack convinced the devil to turn himself into a sixpence coin as part of one of Jack's pranks on the locals. Jack put the coin in his wallet beside a cross which trapped the devil in his new monetary form. Jack let the devil go once he promised not to take his soul when his day of death arrived. 

Eventually Jack died and when he got to heaven he was refused entry on grounds that he had lived a terrible life. The devil kept his promise not to let Jack into hell and so he was trapped in the infinite darkness between heaven and hell without a light. The devil gave Jack an ember from hell to light his path and Jack carved out the inside of a turnip and place the ember inside, forever doomed to wander earth as a homeless ghoul. 

Before pumpkins were used, Jack O Lanterns were carved using turnips in order to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away. Potatoes (naturally) and beets were also used. When Irish immigrants went to American during the 1800's they brought the tradition of the Jack O' Lantern with them. However once they discovered pumpkins they realised that they were easier to carve than turnips and so the contemporary tradition of pumpkin carving was born! 

Last year's pumpkins.
The RIP one was made by my lovely sister and the Cylon Centurion one was made by me.
That was a fun day! :)


Sabayon said...

Neat! i would never have guessed that the original jack-o-lantern was a turnip. Now I am going to have to try turnip carving this Halloween.

The Irish Phantom Cat said...

Yeah it's really interesting ain't it! Hehe I'm tempted to try that out myself. If you do end up trying it then I would love to see the results! And thank you for your comment :)