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History of Jack-O-Lanterns

We know that the Irish brought the tradition of carving turnips or other vegetables like rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets to America. In America it soon changed to pumpkins because they found that pumpkins were readily available, larger and easier to carve.

I've scoured over the web for the history of where the Jack O' Lantern came from. Couldn't find one definitive history, but instead a hodgepodge of stories. Most of the histories include some similarities and below is the gathering of those.

The history can be traced all the way back to the mid-1700s. All the stories include a character by the name of "Stingy Jack", "Drunk Jack", "Jack the Blacksmith" or a host of other names.

Even by todays standards Jack was known as low life scum, the bottom of the bottom, would rather spit on you before telling you the time. Jack was a known alcoholic with a bad temper who enjoyed turnips but he was also clever and loved to play pranks on everyone: friends, family, even the devil. Different stories have him tricking the Devil different ways. One of the ways is by tricking the Devil into climbing an apple tree and while the Devil was in the tree, Jack placed crosses all around the tree trapping the Devil in the tree. Stingy Jack eventually got the Devil to promise him not to take his soul when he died. As soon as the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack let the Devil down by removing the crosses.

Other stories have Stingy Jack tricking the Devil at a pub. This time the Devil was prowling around the pubs of Ireland and coms across Jack. The Irish could drink even Satan under the table and still possessing his wit, Jack offers the Devil a deal. The Devil would pick up the tab, in exchange for Jacks soul. So the Devil morphs himself into a silver piece to pay for the tab, instead of paying the tab, Jack throws the silver piece into his money pouch which also included a silver piece with a crucifix on it. The crucifix imprisoned the Devil in the pouch and in exchange for his freedom, the Devil agreed to let Jack have his soul.

In both stories, Jack eventually dies and heads down to Hell. The Devil can hold a long grudge and decided not to let Jack into Hell. So our character heads up to heaven and is refused entry at the Pearly Gates. With nowhere else to go Jack headed back to Hell. The Devil still refused Jack entry to Hell and left Jack with nowhere to go but wonder aimlesly in the dark. Jack asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his "Jack O'Lantern".

On all Hallow's eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O'Lanterns. In the 1800's a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O'Lanterns.


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