Halloween Icon: The Irish Legend of Stingy Jack

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Seasonal: History of the Jack-O’-Lantern

Written by Krysta M. Nelson, Contributing Writer

Autumn, what a wonderful time of year! A time to break out all my favorite sweaters just as the leaves turn into vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red, and, best of all, the arrival of Halloween, my favorite holiday. I have so many fond memories over the years, eating candy all night and wearing costumes to school.

I should mention, my nickname as a kid was “Little Miss Mess Maker,” which means my favorite Halloween activity has always been carving pumpkins, even recreating a horror movie with the guts of a gourd one time. It was epic — the mess, not the movie.

Now, most people carve pumpkins never realizing the myth behind the mess, but my brain likes to know things, so I scooped up the history and discovered “The Legend of Stingy Jack.”

Long ago, in a small Ireland town, a drunkard named Stingy Jack earned his moniker after pinning his bar tab on the Devil himself. Apparently, Jake caused a bit of trouble for his neighbors, so Satan had come for his soul. Now, Jack may have been known for being a drunk — scuttered and bollocksed — but he was also a clever lad, convincing the Devil to take him to his favorite pub as a final request. When the bill came ’round, Jack convinced the demon to turn into a coin, so
Jack could pay for his drinks.

However, instead of paying up, Jack dropped the coin into his pocket, alongside a crucifix, trapping the fiery foe. The Devil begged Stingy Jack to release him, and so he did, but only on the condition the Devil would not come for him for another year, and should Jack die, Satan could not claim his soul.

Halloween Postcards from the past

True to his word, the Devil didn’t return for a whole year. When he finally reappeared, Jack convinced Satan to climb a tree to grab a piece of fruit for the journey to Hell. Once the Devil reached the top, Jack carved a cross into the bark of the trunk, trapping the Devil among the branches. Again, Satan begged Jack to free him, but this time, Jack made him promise another 10 years. Of course, the Devil agreed to his terms and was freed.

Upon his death, Jack was denied heaven because of his obvious sins. And because of his trickery and scheming, Satan wouldn’t allow him into Hell either. Instead, the Devil gave Jack a lump of burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and has been roaming the earth ever since as “Jack of the Lantern,” or Jack-o’-lantern nowadays.

What a guy, am I right? Because of this legend people in Ireland and Scotland started carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes. People didn’t carve pumpkins
until Irish and Scottish immigrants came to the U.S. They brought their tradition and found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, were perfect for jack-o’-lanterns.

I love it when fun activities have such rich histories, and the history being a ghost story doubles the enjoyment. I hope you found it as fascinating as I did. This Halloween, I wish for you a messy, memorable time with or without the independent film-making.