Seems this time of year everyone is posting pumpkin patch photos. I confess I get a bit giddy picking my pumpkins for the holiday, and being out in a patch is one of my favorite Halloween traditions- even if I’m worried about getting mud on my camera the whole time. 😉
When you think about it, the tradition of collectively cutting holes in nearly-inedible plants and then leave them to rot in front of our homes is a little weird- but there’s a long history behind Jack-o-Lanterns that’s maybe even stranger than you expect!
It’s widely assumed pumpkin carving arrived in North America with Irish and Scottish immigrants. Pumpkins aren’t a native plant to those areas so originally turnips, potatoes, or beets were carved to resemble scary faces, lit from within using an ember from the fireplace, and set at the door of your home. They were meant to frighten off evil spirits roaming the world on All Hallow’s Eve. In North America pumpkins were a local crop, and not particularly delicious or useful in recipes so they were substituted.
In Irish folklore a character called “Stingy Jack” is the namesake of the Jack-o-Lantern. There are a lot of variations of the story that leads to the lantern but in all of them he is a cruel trickster and a drunk. One day he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree and once up in the tree Jack surrounded the trunk with crosses so he couldn’t come down. Jack made the Devil promise not to take his soul when he died and until an agreement was made wouldn’t let him come down from the tree (
I don’t know why the Devil is so weak he couldn’t jump down but- hey, I didn’t write this).
When he died St.Peter wouldn’t allow him into Heaven, since he’d been such a wanker during life, and Jack wasn’t allowed in Hell either- so he was forced to wander the pitch dark realm between the two eternally (alone with the turnip he brought along). At one point the Devil felt a bit sorry for him and tossed an ember from Hell to Jack to help him light his way. Jack hollowed out his turnip and used it as a lantern but he never found his way out of that awful place. Traditionally carved turnips and other vegetables were used to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away on All Hallow’s Eve.
Nowadays carved Jack-o-Lanterns are as much associated with Halloween as pine trees with Christmas!
One thought on “Stingy Jack and Jack-O-Lanterns”
I just wrote my own blog post about pumpkin carving that touches on the Stingy Jack folklore! I’m glad other people find this sort of lore entertaining and interesting. 🙂