Irish folklore says Stingy Jack tricked the Devil and became an evil spirit. The Irish made protective decorations to keep Stingy Jack away. When they migrated to North America, the Irish needed to adapt their lanterns. Get more after the jump.
Stingy Jack Was A Cheapskate In Ireland
Stingy Jack, as Irish folklore suggests, was the cheapest-of-the-cheapest. His clothes were a patchwork of scraps and shoes resoled more times than a semi truck’s wheels. He hoarded his money and became skilled in the art of the swindle.
That ability let him go toe-to-toe with the Master of Lies, The Devil himself.
Tricking The Devil … Twice
Not many people can fool the Devil, but Jack did it twice.
The first time, Jack had stolen a pile of goods from a nearby village. As the villagers chased Jack, he ran into the Devil. Satan told Jack it was his time to die, but a crazy idea popped into Jack’s head. He made a deal with the Devil: Turn into a coin and Jack will pay off the villagers. When they fight over the coin, you can harvest their souls.
So, the Devil became a coin and Jack put it in his wallet, next to a cross. It blocked the Devil’s power and he was trapped for a year.
Next, Stingy Jack released the Devil if he left Jack alone for a year. But Jack went up a tree and carved a cross in it. That stopped the Devil from coming down. Jack made another deal that the Devil had to leave him alone for another 10 years. Plus, the Devil couldn’t reap Jack’s soul.
The Devil agreed and Jack was free to go.
A few days later, Jack died. God wouldn’t let him into Heaven because Jack wasn’t such a good guy. The Devil kept his word and barred Jack from Hell.
That left Jack’s soul with no place to go. So, he was left in purgatory, somewhere between Heaven and the living, to haunt the bogs and villages. Some say the Devil admired Jack’s trickery and he gave Jack a piece of coal or candle to find his way through the night.
You can see that light flickering over bogs to this very day. People call them will o’ the wisp, but it might just be Stingy Jack trudging along.
Root Vegetables To The Rescue
As Stingy Jack haunted the bogs and villages of Ireland, the locals needed to find something to keep him away.
They carved his likeness in root vegetables like turnips and potatoes, common plants in the area. They were hard to carve and there was little chance of putting a candle in one. Both were requirements to keep away Stingy Jack and his cabal of evil spirits.
The Irish kept at it and, over the years, they developed stunning craftsmanship. Things changed when the Irish migrated to North America during in the 1830s. They needed to adapt their Jack O’Lanterns due to the new flora. Luckily, the ideal plant grew all over the place.
Pumpkins Lead The Jack O’Lantern Charge
When the Irish migrated to North America, they found a dearth of root vegetables. That means no turnips or potatoes for carving. How could they carve the protective faces to keep away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits?
Pumpkins, a native gourd species to North America, fit the bill. They were also much larger and easier to carve than turnips and parsnips. A candle could also fit easily inside the hollowed gourd.
The Irish spread this new tactic to their family and friends. It spread across the US and Canada in subsequent years.
And that’s how we got our Jack O’Lanterns to keep the bad spirits of Halloween at bay.