Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stingy Jack and the origins of the Jack O'lantern.

Tonight is Halloween Night!  At some point this evening, I'll be driving around the small city I live in, to look at the decorations, and particularly the Jack O'lanterns.  These wonderfully carved pumpkins have always been my favorite Halloween decoration.

In honor of Halloween and my love of Jack O'lantern's, I've decided to tell you the legend of Stingy Jack. and how the Jack O'lantern came to be.

And now!
The Legend of Stingy Jack

Once upon a time, there was, in Ireland, a man known as Stingy Jack.  Jack was mean, drank too much, and delighted in playing tricks on anyone and everyone.

One day, Jack ran into the Devil.  Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him in the local pub.  When the time came to pay, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for the drinks.  Once the Devil had done so, Jack put the coin into his pocket near a silver cross, so the Devil could not change back to his original form.

Jack eventually told the Devil he'd free him, on the condition that the Devil wouldn't bother Jack for the period of one year, and that when Jack died, the Devil would not come for his soul.  The Devil agreed and Jack freed him to go on his way.

The next year, the Devil returned to see Jack, and Jack, ever the trickster, convinced the Devil to climb a tree to pick some fruit. The Devil agreed, but as soon as he was up the tree, Jack carved the symbol of a cross into the bark of the tree so the Devil could not climb down.   Again Jack told the Devil he would release him, on the condition that this time the Devil would not bother Jack for a space of 10 years, and again, that when Jack died, the Devil would not come for his soul.  Again the Devil agreed and Jack released him from the tree.

When Stingy Jack finally died, God refused to allow him into heaven due to his unpleasant character in life.  The Devil, still stung at having been tricked twice by Jack, turned him away from the gates of hell. Instead, he gave Jack a single glowing coal and condemned Jack's spirit to forever walk the world of the living, with nothing else to light his way.   Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and used that as a lantern to light his way.

 To this day, in dark and lonely places, you can sometimes still see Jack O'lantern walking through eternity.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns.  They would carve scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.  They would also carve happy or welcoming images in order that friendly spirits, or those of their ancestors, were welcome to visit.  In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States and soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

And so my friends, thus goes the story of Stingy Jack and the origins of our modern day Jack O'lantern.

Whoever you are, and whatever you celebrate and believe...

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