As we dive deeper into Fall, I thought this month it would be fun to celebrate Halloween by exploring the origin of Jack O’Lanterns.
As a young boy, I remember the annual October trip to the grocery store to select the perfect pumpkin. Right before Halloween we would scrawl a friendly face on it with a black marker, take a knife to it, carving out the details before pulling out the insides, so we could put a candle inside and use it as an outdoor Halloween decoration.
The ‘art’ of carving pumpkins originated centuries ago with the ancient Celtics in Ireland. Only they didn’t use pumpkins. They weren’t grown there.
Instead of pumpkins, the Celts used turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets as their preferred vessel.
To celebrate what was known then as All Hallow’s Eve, the Celts and other Irish folks would scrape the inside of these object clean, sometimes carving out a scary face before tossing a fiery ember inside to light the night and ward off evil spirits.
Legend has it that an Irishman name Stingy Jack would get drunk and delighted in pulling pranks on people. This included family, friends and town folk. It seemed no one escaped his trickery.
Once, Stingy Jack tricked the Devil into climbing up a tree. Before the Devil figured out Jack’s prank, he found himself trapped in the tree. Stingy Jack surrounded the base of the tree with crosses. With the Devil stuck up in the tree, unwilling to brave the crosses; Jack only agreed to remove them if the Devil promised not to take him to Hell when he died. The Devil agreed and was allowed down from the tree.
When Stingy Jack died many years later, he was met at the gates of heaven by St. Peter who denied him entry. He thought Jack was a mean, horrible drunk who spent his life terrorizing others.
With no place for his soul to go, Jack turned to the Devil and asked him if he could enter Hell. The Devil reminded him of their deal many years before. He kept his promise not to allow Jack in.
Fearing his spirit would be left to wander alone in the darkness, Jack asked the Devil for help. The Devil responded by tossing him a burning ember to light his way. Jack carried with him a turnip, his favorite vegetable, that he hollowed out. Placing the ember inside, he had himself a lantern.
Thankfully, the Irish continued the tradition started by the Celts as they emigrated to America. Once here, they discovered pumpkins, a larger vegetable that was much easier to hollow out and carve scary faces into.
The tale of Stingy Jack was one of many stories of how the annual pumpkin carving ritual began. Which do you believe? Who knows? This one sounded like one that would be fun to share.
With a short two weeks left until Halloween, I hope you all enjoy the holiday with your family. I have fond memories of taking my own children out trick or treating. It’s a great time to spend in the community comparing costumes and having a good time.
But, there’s always a ghoul or two looking to spoil your fun. So please be careful, create some memories and we’ll catch you next month. Oh, and save me a Snicker’s bar will ya’? 😊
Keep on sketching!