By Clarissa Allison | October 30th, 2015
What image spring to mind when you think of the term “jack-o’-lantern”? Jack o’ lanterns have a surprising and enchanted history. The term itself makes you ask questions. “Who is this Jack, why are lanterns involved, and what does any of it have to do with Halloween?” Interestingly, the earliest known use of the term is East Anglian and is really just a description for the strange phenomenon of the “will-o’-the-wisp” ghost lights travelers often see floating over bogs, marshes and swamps at night, in places like Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales.
The “wisp” is another name for a bundle of sticks or paper often used as torches. Since folks attributed the existence of the lights to wandering spirits, elaborate and spooky tales were told about poor lads often named Will or Jack being doomed to haunt the local marshes holding an eerie light, usually for some earthly misdeed.
It appears that the pumpkin’s association with Halloween (or All Hallow’s Eve) began in the early 19th century. There is a common belief that the custom of carving jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween originated in Ireland, where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were used. Hallowe’en guisers in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands commonly used turnips carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or ghouls. The days of October 31 – November 1st became known as the pagan festival Samhain and it was seen as a time when spirits or fairies were particularly active. Some believe that the jack-o’-lanterns originated with All Saints’ Day (November 1st)/All Souls’ Day (November 2nd) and represented Christian souls in purgatory. They were sometimes set on windowsills to keep the harmful spirits out of one’s home.
The Legend of Stingy Jack
Commonly accepted as the origin of the jack-o’-lantern’s subsequent affiliation with All Hallows Eve is the Irish legend of Stingy Jack.
“There once lived a wicked, miserly man named Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack was not only deceitful, but he was a liar. He was also a thief.
One night after a merry time of deceiving, lying, thieving and drinking, Stingy Jack passed out drunk, as was often his practice. His soul floated in limbo, and the Devil was right on time to claim it. Stingy Jack however, considered himself a good deal better trickster than even the Devil himself, and he feigned to go along with his wishes. But said to the Devil, “I’ll give you my soul, but first let us share one last drink.”
Now, even the Devil enjoys a drink now and again, so who was he to refuse Jack’s final request? They went to Jack’s favorite pub, however as usual, Jack had no money to pay for the drink. Usually, he’d skip out on the tab. So Jack said to the Devil, “Why don’t you turn yourself into a sixpence to pay for the drink? Later, when you’ve disappeared, the good people of this town will be fighting over where the sixpence disappeared to.”
Since the Devil especially liked to see people fight over nothing, he agreeably turned himself into a sixpence, which Jack immediately pocketed next to his cross. This trapped (and infuriated) the Devil. Jack knew there was no escaping for the Devil, so he decided to strike a bargain. He would free the Devil if he would agree to leave Jack alone for 10 full years. The Devil agreed.
Ten years later the Devil showed up right on time, to claim Jack’s soul. Jack agreed. “But first,” he said pitifully, “Would you mind climbing up that apple tree to get an old man one last apple?” The Devil liked apples too, and so he climbed the tree. But once he was out of reach, Jack surrounded the tree with crosses, and the Devil was trapped again. Jack told the Devil he would only release him if he agreed to leave him be forever. The Devil, who thought if he never saw Stingy Jack again it would be too soon, agreed.
Several years later Stingy Jack finally died. He went to the gates of heaven, but he was refused entry due to his life of lying, stealing, deception and drunkenness. Not knowing where else to go, Jack went to the gates of hell instead. The Devil, remembering his earlier encounters with Jack, laughed in his face and refused him admittance as well. Jack was now doomed to walk the earth for eternity, but the Devil took pity on him and gave him a single ember from hell to light his way. Jack put the ember inside his favorite food – a hollowed out turnip, which he always carries with him.”
These days, you’ll rarely see Halloween imagery that does not include a glowing pumpkin’s carved grimace. We now celebrate the artistry involved in carving jack-o’lanterns with hyper-real facial expressions or dramatic landscapes. Carving your own jack-o’-lantern is almost a right of passage for the pumpkin enthusiasts of today. You can buy pumpkin carving stencils or even sign up for pumpkin craft classes! What are you waiting for? Grab your pumpkin carving kit and create your own ghoulishly glowing jack-o’-lantern tonight!
We’d love to see pictures of your pumpkin crafting masterpieces. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions on lighting fixtures, accessories and fans, please contact us toll free at 1-877-385-2104. The team at Louie Lighting, Inc. wishes you and yours a safe and happy Halloween weekend.