Elbow-deep in gourd guts tonight--while carving a Picasso-esque pumpkin--I starting wondering about how the tradition of carving jack o'lanterns on Halloween started. So after lighting my pumpkin, I began to enlighten myself.
In an Irish legend, a man known as Stingy Jack had a drink with the Devil. Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for the drinks--so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay the tab.
Jack popped the coin into his pocket, next to a silver cross--thus preventing Satan from returning to his original form.
Eventually, Jack freed the Devil--but only on the condition that he wouldn't bother him for a whole year and that--should he die--the Devil would not put him in Hell.
The following year, Jack--who clearly should have gone into politics--convinced the Devil to climb a tree to pick some fruit. Jack carved a cross into the tree--which prevented the Devil from coming down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten years.
Not long after, Stingy Jack died. He knocked at Heaven's Gate but God turned him away. Satan also turned Jack away. The Devil was still mad at Jack for playing tricks on him--yet he honored his commitment to not put him in hell.
|The Devil as a goat, by Diablorex|
Thus, rejected by both Heaven and Hell, Jack was doomed to wander the earth with only a burning coal to light his way. He became known first as "Jack of the Lantern," and then "Jack O'Lantern."
|(C)opyright Can Stock Photo / Sandralise|
The British had a tradition of making lanterns from potatoes, turnips, and beets. In America, these Irish and British traditions were combined into making jack o'lanterns out of pumpkins. The original jack o'lanterns were carved with faces, but over time, artists have gone hog wild carving intricate designs and patterns.
Wow. Makes my pumpkin look kind of . . . well, kind of sad and lonely, like poor old Stingy Jack, forever wandering, never finding a home.