Legend of Jack-O-Lantern

As Halloween approaches, more and more jack-o-lanterns will appear in your neighborhood. You’ll see them in windows, on doorsteps, along porch railings, atop fence posts, even on rooftops. Some jack-o-lanterns are large and some are small; some are elaborate and some are simple; some are frightening and some are funny. One thing they all have in common is their origin in the folktale of Stingy Jack.

Stingy Jack, the story goes, lived in Ireland a long time ago, before Halloween became the holiday it is today and before Ireland had pumpkins. Some people say Stingy Jack was a farmer and some people say he was a blacksmith. Everyone agrees that he was a skinflint and a liar and a drunk – but one blessed with such a silver tongue that he could convince anyone to do anything for him.

The tales of Stingy Jack’s behavior spread so far and so wide that the Devil himself heard them. He grew jealous. Who was Stingy Jack, a mere mortal, to do so many awful things? The Devil decided to pay a visit on this upstart and claim his soul for Hell.

Of course Stingy Jack was afraid when the Devil appeared. But he hid his fear and said, “Oh, it’s you. I expected you, sooner or later. But it’s too bad you’ve come just now. I was heading down to the pub for some ale. Come along with me. We’ll have a drink together, and then I’ll go wherever you like.”

The Devil agreed. Once they arrived at the pub and took their places at the bar, Stingy Jack made a show of looking through all his pockets for some coins. “Drat!” he said. “I’ve got no money!”

“Don’t look at me,” the Devil said. “I don’t carry money.”

“But you can be money, can’t you?” Stingy Jack said. “You’re the Devil. You can turn yourself into anything. Turn yourself into a coin and we’ll use that to pay the barkeep for our ale. Then, once he’s put you in the till, you can turn back into yourself. Think how terrified everyone will be.”

The Devil thought that sounded like fun. He turned himself into a coin and dropped on the counter.

Stingy Jack snatched up the coin and put it in his pocket – where, it was true, he was carrying no other coins. He was, however, carrying a small silver crucifix. The Devil was trapped.

“Let me out!” the Devil said. He couldn’t change his shape in the presence of the crucifix, but he could still talk. “I’ll give you anything you want if you release me.”

Origin of the Jack-o-Lantern “Leave me alone for ten years,” said Stingy Jack. The Devil agreed.

Ten years went by. One day Stingy Jack, now grown old and stiff and slow, was walking along a country path when the Devil appeared and blocked his way. Once again, Stingy Jack was afraid, but again he hid his fear.

“Ah, it’s you,” he said. “It’s a pity you’ve come just now. I was about to get an apple from that fine old tree. I surely would like to taste a good apple one more time before I leave this earth.”

“All right,” said the Devil. “Get an apple. But be quick about it.”

“It’s going to take me some time,” said Stingy Jack, leaning over and rubbing his knee. “I can’t climb a tree as easily as I could when I was young.”

The Devil, to hurry things along, agreed to climb the tree and pick an apple for Stingy Jack. As soon as the Devil had both feet off the ground, Stingy Jack took a knife from his pocket and cut a sign of the cross into the tree trunk. The Devil was trapped again.

This time Stingy Jack told the Devil that he’d only set him free if he agreed to go away and never come calling again. “With pleasure,” said the Devil. Stingy Jack scratched out the sign of the cross and the Devil climbed down and went away, grumbling.

Many more years went by. Stingy Jack grew even older and stiffer and slower. Eventually he died, this time with no help from the Devil.

Stingy Jack set off for Heaven. He thought he could trick Saint Peter into letting him in. After all, his whole life he’d always been able to talk people into doing things they shouldn’t have done.

But Saint Peter wasn’t fooled. “You don’t belong here,” he said. “You’ve led a horrible life. Go down to Hell and see if they’ll have you there.”

So Stingy Jack, resigned to his fate, went and knocked on the gates of Hell. The Devil himself answered. “So it’s you,” he said. “Go away. You’re not welcome here, not after the tricks you’ve pulled on me.”

“But then where do I go?” asked Stingy Jack. “They won’t let me into Heaven, either.”

The Devil shrugged. “You’ll have to wander in the space between worlds.”

“But it’s dark out here,” said Stingy Jack. “How can I wander if I can’t see? No, I think I’ll just stay here and sit outside your gate.”

The Devil, to get rid of Stingy Jack, gave him a glowing coal from the fires of Hell to light his way. Stingy Jack made a lantern for the coal by hollowing out a turnip, cutting holes in the turnip’s sides to let the light shine through. To this day he wanders about in the dark, carrying his lantern before him. People stopped calling him Stingy Jack and started calling him Jack of the Lantern.

Other ghosts and ghouls are afraid of Jack-o-Lantern. After all, he did get the better of the Devil himself. That is why, on Halloween night, when the boundary between worlds grows thin and malicious spirits easily pass back and forth, people put lighted jack-o-lanterns outside their homes. Passing spirits see the lights, think it’s Jack-o-Lantern, and slink away to do their Halloween mischief somewhere else.

Copyright Protection

Holiday And Related Sites You Should Check Out …