The Tale Stingy Jack is from ancient Celtic folklore in Ireland.
Irish immigrants brought the current tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns to America. But, the original Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin. Pumpkins did not exist in Ireland in ancient times. Ancient Celtic cultures in Ireland carved turnips on All Hallow’s Eve, and placed an ember in them, to ward off evil spirits. Upon arrival in the New World, they quickly discovered that pumpkins were much easier to carve, and made great “lanterns”.
This Celtic story is among the most popular. Although the Jack O’Lantern in this legend is a turnip or a rutabaga.
Jack O’Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. Many of the stories, center around Stingy Jack. Here’s the most popular story:
Stingy Jack was a miserable old drunk who took pleasure in playing tricks on just about everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he was at his favorite pub with the Devil. The Devil offered to buy Jack a drink in exchange for his soul. The devil transformed himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. But, Jack stole the coin and put it in his pocket where he kept a cross. The cross kept the Devil from changing back. Stingy Jack freed the Devil, only after he agreed to wait before taking his soul.
Years later, he ran into the Devil by an apple tree. The Devil wanted to take his soul right then and there. Stingy Jack bought some time, by asking the Devil to climb up the tree and get him an apple. As soon as the Devil was in the tree, Stingy Jack trapped the Devil by placing crosses in a circle around the tree. Then, Stingy Jack made the Devil promise not to take his soul when he died.
Many years later, Jack died and went to the pearly gates of Heaven. He was told by Saint Peter that he was mean, cruel, and had led a miserable, worthless life on earth. Stingy Jack was not allowed to enter heaven. Stingy Jack then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Stingy Jack was scared . He had nowhere to go, but to wander about forever in the dark Netherworld between Heaven and Hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave, as there was no light to see by. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell, to help Stingy Jack light his way. Jack had a Turnip with him. It was one of his favorite foods, and he always carried one with him. Jack hollowed out the Turnip, and placed the ember the Devil had given him inside the turnip. From that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, with only his dim turnip lighting the way.
The Irish called the ghost of Stingy Jack, “Jack of the Lantern”, later abbreviated to Jack O’Lantern”.
On all Hallow’s Eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O’Lanterns. In the 1800’s waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns.
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