Ten or so years ago, the Schuyler County Times (Missouri) published an article of mine about how the tradition of carving Jack o’ Lanterns began. Here is my “blog-version” of the article.
According to Irish legend, we carve Jack o’ Lanterns today thanks to Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack was a drunk and miserly man who got his meals by snatching pies cooling in an open window sill or snagging a chicken from a distracted neighbor. Once, Stingy Jack tricked the Devil himself into climbing a tree to fetch an apple. When the Devil jumped onto a branch, Stingy Jack carved crosses in the trunk and wouldn’t let him down until he promised never to ask for Stingy Jack’s soul again.
A few years later, Stingy Jack died in a turnip patch. His soul was left with no place to go because he’d been too miserly to go to heaven, and since the Devil had promised not to take his soul, he couldn’t go to Hell either. He could only wander in darkness. The devil gave him a glowing coal which he put in a carved-out turnip to serve as a lantern to guide him.
Jack’s lantern, the Jack o’ Lantern, became known as the symbol of a doomed soul. Hollowing out turnips and placing candles or burning embers in them to ward off Stingy Jack and other doomed spirits became a Celtic tradition.
Irish immigrants in the 1800’s brought their Halloween traditions to the United States. But since turnips were not as readily available as in Ireland, they substituted pumpkins for their Jack o’ Lanterns. Good idea, wouldn’t you say?