Growing up,I never gave a lot of thought about some of our Halloween traditions.If I'd ever asked my parents about why we carve Jack-O-Lanterns, I'm sure they wouldn't have known.It was just something we did.
My son will be turning two in a few weeks and I carved his first Jack-O-Lantern a couple of nights ago. Of course, at two, he's too young to be asking questions about it but I thought I'd read up on the tradition so I'd know what to tell him when the time came.
According to most of what I've seen online, the Jack-O-Lantern came to the U.S. with the Irish immigrants who came here to escape the potato famine. The Jack-O-Lanterns in Ireland had originally been made from turnips.The immigrants began fashioning the lanterns out of pumpkins because the squash was cheaper and more abundant here than the turnip.
The story as to why they carved Jack-O-Lanterns goes back to an old legend of a man named Stingy Jack. The man in the story was called that because he was a tightwad and very stingy with his money.Not only was he cheap, but he was a drunkard as well. But, unlike a good many drunks, he did not become freer with his spending when he drank.
One Halloween, Stingy Jack was spending the evening at a local pub....getting drunk as usual. He struck up a conversation with a stranger who turned out to be the Devil himself. Seeing a chance for a free drink, Jack made a bargain with the Devil; his soul in exchange for another drink. When Jack had finished the drink, the Devil changed himself into a silver coin so Jack could pay the bar keep. Instead of giving the coin to the bar keep, Jack put the coin in his pocket. Unfortunately for the Devil, Jack had a Rosary in his pocket and the crucifix made the Devil powerless to change back. Jack agreed to release the Devil on condition that the Devil not collect his soul for ten years. The Devil agreed and he was on his way back to Hell.
Ten years passed. It was Halloween and Jack was making his way home from another pub when the Devil appeared to fetch Jack's soul. Jack asked the Devil if he would allow Jack to have an apple before they left for Hell. The Devil saw no harm in that and climbed to the top of a nearby apple tree to get an apple for the poor man. When the Devil reached the top, Jack took out his Rosary and wrapped it around the base of the tree and trapped the Devil. Jack told the Devil that he would remove the Rosary and free him if the Devil would not take his soul. Again, the Devil had no choice but to agree to the bargain.
When Jack finally died of old age, Saint Peter refused him entry into Heaven because of his drunkenness and because he had been too stingy on Earth to help the widows and orphans and others in need of charity. Not knowing what else to do, Jack went down to Hell, but the Devil was so angry at having been tricked by Jack that he would not allow Jack to stay in Hell. Jack was condemned to spend eternity walking the face of the Earth. As he walked away, the Devil threw him an ember from the fires of Hell. Jack carved out a turnip and put the ember inside to make a lantern.