Origins of the Jack O’ Lantern

1663, a local name for a Will-o-the-wisp (L. ignis fatuus), mainly attested in East Anglia but also in southwestern England. The extension to carved pumpkins is 1837, Amer.Eng.

How the Jack O’ Lantern Tradition Formed

To many people, a Jack o’ Lantern is a pumpkin that has been carved into a spooky face for the Halloween tradition. There is much more to the pumpkin caring than meets the eye. It is merely named after an old Irish folktale about an astute old farmer who uses a strong cross that traps the devil. Many can associate this tail with Old Hollow’s Eve, although his story is a bit different from the headless horseman.

The Legend

Stingy Jack was a lazy farmer who was most often found drunk, also gaining the name “Drunk Jack” among the villagers. He was a deceiver and enjoyed cheating on card games to earn a quick buck. One night, the devil himself overheard Jack about what he was planning that night. After confronting the devil, Jack begged that if he could at least take one drink of ale at the nearby pub before descending down into Hell. The devil agreed and let Jack have a mug of beer at the pub. Using his convincing ways, Jack told the devil to turn into a silver coin, which he placed into his pocket which also had a crucifix stuck inside of it. This was used to keep the devil in his now coin shape.

This made the devil prolong the pact for ten years. When the ten years where finally coming to a halt, Jack found himself back to where he was when he first met the devil. Jack of course asked another foolish request if he could eat an apple before going down into the depths. The devil reluctantly agreed to let him have this request and Jack struck the devil with many crucifixes at the base of the tree. After catching the devil, Jack made a strong request that he should never even go into the depths of Hell. The devil actually agreed to this and Jack was sent to heaven when he perished.

This was doubtful however, as heaven could not let Jack up to the gates. Wanting to find rest either way, Jack begged the devil to let him into hell, which the devil could not agree to since jack was falling back behind his bold words. Jack is said to be wandering the very plains that align heaven and hell in search of peace, but will wandering for an eternity.

The Legacy

The Jack o’ Lantern is actually supposed to be the face of the devil Jack had seen that night. The lantern as part of its name means the very lantern Jack is cursed to use as he wanders the underworld where no heaven or hell can be seen. The origin of the use of a pumpkin comes from the fact that the lantern Jack used was actually a turnip, carved out to place a candle lit inside.

Jack o’ Lanterns are now a Halloween tradition used to for fun, but many people who celebrate this holiday don’t know about its true origins and the folklore behind it.


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