A History of Jack-o’-lanterns by Lilian Anderson

A History of Jack-o'-lanterns by Lilian Anderson Artwork

I wrote yesterday about how Trick or Treating originated in Scotland and Ireland and has been repackaged and returned to us in modern times with an American slant. Today’s Halloween tradition has also made the same journey.

The carved pumpkin is a tradition which is now strongly associated with Halloween, but the tradition of the ghoulish face on a carved vegetable dates back to the 1700s.

Ghost story time….

There was once a thief called Stingy Jack, a blacksmith who cheated and stole the new cross from the church. One night the villagers chased him out of town, where he met the Devil himself, who told him it was his time to die. Jack instead suggested a trade, why would the Devil take just one soul, when Jack could help him cause chaos to the whole village. They agreed the Devil would shapeshift into a gold coin and Jack would sneak it into the church, then after Sunday service, once the whole village had seen the valuable coin, the Devil would change shape again and leave the whole village arguing and wondering who stole the valuable token. The Devil agreed and changed into the coin, and Jack popped him in his bag.

Okay, now remember the stolen cross? As soon as the Devil in the shape of the coin touched the cross he was powerless and trapped. Jack offered him a further bargain. He would release him on one condition, that he would never take Jack’s soul to hell. Reluctantly, the Devil agreed. Years passed and as all mortals do, old Jack died. His life of sinning meant that he could not enter heaven but the Devil kept his deal and so Jack’s soul was left to wander the earth. The villagers began keeping a carved turnip lit by a candle in their windows to keep the spirit of the thief called Stingy Jack away. 

These protective neeps with carved on faces were then taken to the USA and eventually became the Jack-o’-lanterns we now know, just carved into bright orange pumpkins and reimported to the UK.

First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/


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