As the days grow shorter and the air turns crisp and the leaves start to show their gorgeous autumn colors, pumpkins ripen, and start showing up everywhere and in everything from coffee to air freshener. Pumpkins are native to America, but the practice of carving Jack O’Lanterns originated in Ireland. So how does that work? How did the Irish carve Jack O’Lanterns without pumpkins?
This weird and twisted tale originates in Ireland as most good stories do. It’s been told for centuries and is surely 100% true.
The Legend Of Stingy Jack, or How to Cheat the Devil.
Stingy Jack was, by all accounts, a cheap bastard. He seldom paid his debts and was always looking for a way to shirk his responsibilities. So being that he had no friends, Jack invited the Devil himself to come join him at the pub for a drink. Being the freeloader that he was, Jack had no coin to pay for the drinks, so he convinced the Devil to shape-shift into a coin to pay the barkeep. Stingy Jack then decided to keep the coin for himself, stashing it in his pocket next to a silver cross to prevent the Devil from assuming humanoid form. Jack later released he Devil, making him promise not to bother Stingy Jack for another year, or make any claim on Jack’s soul upon his death.
One year later, the Devil returned, seeking revenge, and Stingy Jack somehow convinced him to climb an apple tree to grab the tastiest apple for Jack. Once the Devil was high in the tree, Jack carved a cross in the tree, trapping the Devil. The Devil had things to do and asked Jack to kindly let him go. Jack agreed under the condition that the Devil leave him alone for 10 years and again, make no claims on his soul, upon his death.
Years went by and the Devil honored his agreement, but Jack was of poor health and died an early death. Jack had lived a sinful life and there was absolutely no way that St. Peter was going to let this lying, cheating, thief into heaven. The Devil couldn’t take him either, so Jack was condemned to walk the earth every night for all eternity, with nothing but a burning coal to light his way. Jack carved out a turnip to carry the hot coal in, and became known by the Irish as Jack O’Lantern.
The Irish being prudent people, started carving their own turnips and gourds, placing them outside their doors to warn Stingy Jack that he’d find no comfort or drink in their homes. It became a Samhain tradition, since the Irish believed that on Samhain, or Halloween, the spirits of the dead walk the earth.
When the Irish began immigrating to the New World, they discovered that pumpkins make much better Jack O’Lanterns and pretty tasty pie too. Thus, the tradition of the pumpkin Jack O’Lantern was born.