Facts & Folkore:
The practice of decorating “jack-o’-lanterns,” allegedly comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.
According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack 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 he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, however, Jack died, and God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not even allow Jack into hell!
He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since!
The Irish refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern."
In Ireland and Scotland, people 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 spirits. While in England and parts of northern Europe, large beets were sometimes used for the same purpose.
Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the New World. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to the Americas, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns. 🎃
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