The Story of Jack O’Lantern


As the legend goes, several centuries ago in Ireland, there lived a drunk who was known as “Stingy Jack.” Nobody liked him, he cheated, he lied, and he played tricks on people. One night the Devil overheard the tale of Jack’s evil deeds. Unconvinced and envious of the rumors, the devil went to find out for himself, whether or not Jack lived up to his mean reputation.

Jack was walking toward the pub -as he did every night- when he came upon a body with an eerie grimace on its face. It was Satan and Jack realized this was his end; the Devil had finally come to collect his evil soul.

Jack, the trickster that he was, made a last request. He asked Satan to let him drink an Ale before his departure. Satan couldn’t find a reason not to agree, and he took Jack to his favorite pub and supplied him with many beers. Jack -as usual- didn’t have any money and asked Satan to pick up the tab. Bewildered by Jack’s unexpected request, the Devil transmogrified himself into a sixpence, with which Jack could pay the bartender. But Jack didn’t pay. Instead, he stuck the coin in his pocket, where he also kept a crucifix.

In that moment the Devil was trapped. The cross prevented him from changing back into his original form, and he was stuck  in Stingy Jack’s pocket.

At that point, Jack made a deal with the Devil. He would let him out of his pocket, but only if he spared his soul for another ten years. Satan didn’t have a choice and agreed.

Ten years passed by quickly and the devil came back to collect Jack’s soul -as they had agreed on. At first, it seemed as Jack had accepted his fate, but then he made another final request.

He asked for one last taste of an apple. The Devil agreed and climbed a nearby apple tree to pick an apple and while he did so, Stingy Jack carved a cross into the tree’s bark. Once again, the Devil found himself stuck, unable to climb back down due to the power of the cross.

Jack, the trickster that he was, offered Satan another deal. He would help the Devil down from the tree, so long as his soul would never be taken into Hell. The Devil, frustrated, agreed.

The dangerous lifestyle took its toll on Jack; he died the way he lived. His soul, released from his body, wandered to the pearly gates of heaven, where he was turned away for his life’s evil deeds. Jack, rejected, then made his way to the gates of hell. But, surprisingly enough, the Devil kept his side of the bargain and also turned him away -as Jack had requested.

Jack was terrified. That meant he was doomed to wander in darkness alone for all eternity. In that final moment, the Devil felt sorry for him and he tossed Jack a single burning ember to help light his way.

Stingy Jack found a turnip, hollowed it out, and placed the ember inside, creating a lantern to guide him through the underworld.

In Ireland and Scotland, people believed that spirits and ghosts could enter their world on Halloween night. People not wanting to be visited by these ghosts would set food and treats out to satisfy the roaming spirits and they began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns, by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.

Immigrants from these countries brought the Jack o’Lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins were softer and easier to carve than the turnips and potatoes of their homeland.

So this Halloween, when you will be carving your pumpkin, remember the story of Stingy Jack.



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