Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Origins of Halloween in America Part 3

People have been carving jack-o’lanterns at Halloween for centuries. This practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack”, who was a drunken farmer. This Celtic folktale is a tragic fable.

The Legend of “Stingy Jack”

As the story goes Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. But true to his name he did not want to pay for it so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack then could use to buy their drinks. 

Once the Devil did this Jack decided to keep the coin. He pocketed the coin placing it next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.

Jack eventually released the Devil under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that if Jack died within that year he would not claim his soul. 

The next year Jack tricked the Devil again. He convinced him to a climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit, once the Devil was up in the tree Jack carved the mark of a cross into the bark of the tree. The Devil therefore could not come down—this time Jack allowed him to come down only if he agreed to leave him alone for ten more years.

Soon after this Jack died. But the legend states that God unfortunately would not allow Jack, an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil still mad at being tricked kept his promise not to claim Jack’s soul so he was not allowed in hell either. 

He sent Jack on his way with just a lump of coal. Jack found himself wandering the darkness of purgatory with just the coal to light his way. Jack then placed the coal in a turnip he carved. The story ends with Jack roaming the earth endlessly.

The Irish started to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern”. It was then simplified to “Jack-o’lantern”. 

In Ireland and Scotland, people started to make their own versions of Jacks’ lanterns. They carved scary faces into turnips and potatoes and them placed them in windows or near doors in order to frighten Stingy Jack and other evil wandering spirits away.

 In England large beets were used. Immigrants brought the Jack-o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon discovered that American pumpkins made great jack-o’lanterns.

In The Origins of Halloween in America, Part 4 the tradition of bobbing for apples is discussed along with other Halloween games that this tradition evolved from.

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