Every October, carved pumpkins with all sorts of faces glow into the night from porches and doorsteps in the United States and other parts of the world. Gourd-like orange fruits inscribed with faces and illuminated by candles mark the Halloween season.
The practice of decorating “jack-o’-lanterns” — the name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack — originated in Ireland. As the legend goes, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink. So Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Although the Devil turned into a coin, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually freed the Devil, but as deals with the Devil go, the Devil could not bother Jack for one year and in the event Jack did die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree so that the Devil could not come down unless he promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
When Jack finally died, God would not allow such a sinful person into heaven, and the Devil, upset by Jack’s tricks and having to keep his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. As a result, Jack was sent off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Since then, Jack has been roaming the Earth with the coal that he put into a carved-out turnip. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” which was eventually simplified to “Jack O’Lantern.”
When Irish immigrants arrived in America and found a bountiful supply of pumpkins, they soon adopted the pumpkin as the fruit for carving Jack O’Lanterns. Since then, the tradition of carving ghoulish faces into pumpkins has lived on and continues to be a staple in Halloween culture.
By: Maytinee Kramer