Many people know that the carved pumpkin has another name – The Jack-O’-lantern – but many don’t know the origins of that name. The term “jack-o’-lantern” derives from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.
Stingy Jack was a drunkard and an Irishman who did not live a very wholesome life. He loved to trick people almost as much as liked to drink. But what he liked most was money. Stingy Jack would sit with other drunks at the bar, but he never bought a single round. This irritated the men so much that they began calling him Stingy Jack behind his back.
But Stingy Jack did not change his ways. He continued to sit with the men at the bar and never buy a drink, but Stingy Jack was so happy that he had found friends who wanted to keep him company that the name-calling didn’t bother him at all!
One of the other tricks that Jack liked to play was carving out lanterns from turnips that were hollowed out and carved with horrific faces – thus creating what we now know as Halloween pumpkins.
He then roamed both town and country playing tricks on people for money. One day after having way too much fun at someone else’s expense, Stingy Jack decided to pay a visit to the Devil.
In this version of the legend, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Jack didn’t want to pay for their drinks so he convinced Satan himself into becoming an enchanted coin that could buy them both drinks. Once the Devil had transformed into the enchanted coin, Jack decided to keep the money and put it away next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually made a deal with the Devil to release him from the coin, but then tricked the devil into climbing a tree so he could carve a cross in it, trapping the Devil once again.
Another deal was struck where Jack was promised to be left alone by the devil and that his soul would not be taken to hell upon his death. However, his deal with the Devil – and his behavior while he was alive – blocked his entrance into heaven as well. Because of this, Jack’s soul was doomed to wander the earth every night as darkness falls until Judgment Day.
To help light his way at night, the Devil gave Jack a burning ember from hell. Jack took the ember and placed it inside one of his carved-out turnips so that he could use it to light the path ahead as he wandered through the endless nights.
A short time after Stingy Jack passed away, people began telling stories of Jack roaming their towns at night, carrying one of his well-known and frightening carved turnips.
The townspeople, hearing of Stingy Jack’s ghostly lantern coming to haunt them at night, decided to go out with their own turnip lanterns and candles in hollowed gourds as well.
The turnips were carved in such a way so as to make it look like a human face with two holes cut out for eyes, nose, and mouth. Embers from the fire were placed inside the turnip in order to light up the carved-out faces.
The sight frightened Jack enough that he returned to the crossroads and made a deal with Satan and let Satan take his soul, which is exactly what happened (or so the legend goes).
Granted, there are as many different versions of this legend as there are designs that can be carved into pumpkins. But one thing remains certain – Stingy Jack was not a nice person!
When Irish immigrants came to North America, they brought Stingy Jack stories with them and told him by his American name; Stingy Jack O’Lantern. The tradition that Stingy Jack held each night of wandering the earth looking for relief from his torment began in earnest once people started placing candles inside carved out pumpkins on their porches during Halloween.
The Jack O’Lantern is now a staple of Halloween all around the world with Stingy Jack at its heart, roaming forever looking for his next victim to trick.
And it is this Stingy Jack tradition that has carried on to today with his spirit wandering the earth looking for money. He is known by many names, but Stingy Jack will forever be remembered as the man who created both Halloween and carved lanterns alike.