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Why do we carve Jack-o’-Lanterns?

Traditionally, Jack-o’-Lanterns were not the plump, cheery fellows we know today. Instead, they were designed to scare the shit out of you, as seen above.

Jackie here had an important job. His task was to frighten off uninvited guests.

The spooky gourd got his name from the tale of Stingy Jack, a man who gives new meaning to the term “playing with fire.”

Seems Jack liked messing around with Satan. He invited the devil to have a drink with him, but when the bill arrived, so did Jack’s stingy tendencies. He convinced Satan to turn into a coin that he could use to pay the bill. Apparently the devil wasn’t too bright, and once he was a coin, Jack tucked Satan away in his pocket beside a small cross to keep him from regaining his rightful form.

But carrying the anti-Christ in your pocket isn’t the most comfortable, as you can imagine, so Stingy Jack set the devil free under the condition that he wouldn’t bother Jack for one year, and wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul once he died.

Once the time of reckoning came a year later, Jack convinced Satan to climb a tree for a piece of fruit. While he was up there, the wily Jack carved a cross into the trunk so the devil couldn’t come down until he promised he’d leave Jack alone for another ten years.

Don’t feel sorry for the antiChrist–he got the last laugh. When Stingy Jack died, God didn’t want him and neither did the devil. So he now roams the night with only a burning coal inside a carved-out turnip to light his way.

The Irish called him “Jack of the Lantern,” which then became “Jack O’Lantern.”

Some believe that the Jack-o-Lanterns originated with All Saints’ Day, and represent Christian souls in purgatory.

This legend is why people in Ireland and Scotland began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern, carving grotesque faces into turnips, mangelwurzels (whatever they are), potatoes and beets, and placing them by their homes to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.

Are you familiar with the story of the Jack-o-Lantern? Would you ever opt for a “traditional” version on Halloween? You’d need to give out way less candy.

With files from Irish Central.com

 

In honour of Halloween, I’m participating in Trick-or-Treat Reads. My treat for you is City of Ghosts, the very first book in my GhostWriters series.

On the day the villagers were forced to flee Hensu, not everyone got out alive.

Jackson Stone is touring the abandoned Chinese city when he slips away from the group to spend the night, determined to publish an account of his ghostly experiences there.

Then he meets Yuèhai, a strange, soft-spoken woman who can tell him the city’s secrets—secrets the Chinese government would kill to keep hidden.

As Jackson uncovers the truth about Yuèhai and the ghost city, he’s drawn into a web of conspiracy, betrayal, and murder. He must risk everything to save himself and bring honor back to Yuèhai and her family.

Get City of Ghosts for FREE on Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Inktera, Scribd, Overdrive, and Bibliotheca. For more free books, check out the Trick-or-Treat Reads blog hop.

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58 Comments

  1. I love Halloween both the traditions and everything it has become. I look forward to it more than Christmas and I involve the kids and whole family in getting us costumes (usually putting our own together best we can) decorating and scaring trick or treaters while handing out candy. I’m always super sad when its over. Like I’m in depression for the whole first week of november. Especially this year since it stormed on Halloween night about an hour into trick or treat time. So all of that for nothing really. I’m making myself sad again

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, I bet Halloween is really fun at your house. Wish I lived close enough to drop by!

      What’s your stance on Jack-o-Lanterns? Scary or friendly?

      Reply
  2. I like the scary ones! Every time I aim for scary it ends up derpy though! 🙂 I was never sure of the story behind them but I do believe I had heard about scaring away unwanted guests.

    Maybe I will attempt to make one this Halloween and see if I can make it scary. 🙂

    Reply
  3. I’d heard the origin story before. Foolish to play with the devil like that.

    Reply
  4. Why was God mad? Those tricks against evil are hilarious! Unless God had lingering feelings for Satan because he was once an angel….

    Reply
  5. What an amazing legend J.H. Thanks so much! Reminds me Dante’s Faust, or Oscar Wilde’s The Fisherman’s Soul. And other ceremonies around the world that are enacted to keep the evil spirits out ..

    Reply
  6. Hello, JH! I just discovered your blog while browsing and I’m so glad to meet you. I love all things creepy and spooky and this definitely fit the bill. I had no idea about the history behind Jack-o-lanterns. So interesting.
    Your books look really good to me as well. Will have to check them out. Take care and good luck with the rest of the A-Z!

    Reply
  7. I’m Irish and my whole family is a bunch of horror fanatics so I know the background of the Jack O Lantern, but I didn’t know about Stingy Jack. Gah, he sounds like on of my relatives on my dad’s side. Halloween in my family has always been a big deal, we spend all month watching scary movies, we tell scary stories on long car rides, and we draw pictures and my house gets totally transformed. It’s a great time over here in October!

    Reply
  8. Jack was a tricky fellow. But, you’re playing with fire when you try to trick the Devil. I think it would be funny to try to carve a potato! How did they carve a beet? They’re so small. Maybe they just made teeth. Christians have been trying to turn pagan festivals into religious holidays since the beginning of Christianity. It seems a little weird now that I think about it.
    Mary at Play off the Page

    Reply
  9. Interesting. I’ve never heard this story of jack. I knew they hollowed out to light it from within and carved faces to ward off evil.

    Reply
  10. Thank you! Didn’t heard the origin story before but I love Jack O’ Lantern even though we don’t celebrate Halloween here in Serbia, I have always enjoyed watching US movies with Christmas and Halloween themes. 🙂

    Reply
  11. That pic is terrifying!

    Fascinating story! I can definitely see the reference to purgatory. I do wonder though how jack-o-lanterns went from being something so creepy to something so cutesy?

    Reply
  12. My kids love Halloween, dressing up, trick-or-treating. Then they bring home an insane amount of candy to tempt me. I’m hoping they’ll transition out of this phase soon, but I do love carving pumpkins. Each member of our family gets one and we each pick a difficult pattern to carve.

    Reply
  13. Now there is poetic justice! We need more of that in our world.

    I used to make our Jack-O-Lanterns very whimsical and not terrifying, but the kids always liked the twisted, horror-faced ones the best. What is that about kids?

    Reply
  14. I’m afraid Halloween has changed in and around Grand Forks. The city gathers around a bonfire with nearby booths for the kids. The little ones get their treats and some fun as well. The celebration ends with fireworks.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
  15. What a wonderful tale! I like a nice dose of spooky good, and vote for a scary jack.

    Reply
  16. Stingy Jack was his own punishment, right? I never knew the origin of the Jack O Lantern. Thanks for giving me a smile this morning!

    Reply
  17. Ooooh, I love spooky stuff. And that photo is seriously creepy. Bookmarking your site for later…can’t wait to read more.

    Happy A2Z!
    Erica

    http://www.ericageraldmason.com

    Reply
  18. I like this version of the story much better. I usually don’t go all in for most scary things, but Halloween is different. It is the one time I watch horror movies, etc.

    I love the old stories and legends. They offer insight into cultures that are easy to miss. Thanks again for sharing all these amazing tales. Can it be tomorrow now so I can read another?

    Reply
  19. I’ve always admired those that put a huge effort into decorating their yards and carving elaborate pumpkins for Hallowe’en. So much fun to visit! It takes real talent to carve something so sinister out of a gourd.
    I hadn’t heard of Stingy Jack. Sounds kind of like a Hallowe’en Scrooge. 🙂

    Reply
  20. The scarier the better. Halloween is my favorite holiday too. Love it!

    Reply
  21. I’d never heard this before. Now I have a fact to tell people at Halloween. That Jack-o-Lantern is quite creepy!

    Reply
  22. I was not at all familiar with the story of the Jack O’ Lanterns! Great story. Crazy to mess with the Devil like that! That is one creepy photo of carving!
    I’m going to have to look up a mangelwurzel… That’s a neat name!

    Michele at Angels Bark

    Reply
  23. This is a great story and I didn’t know about this so I learned so wing new. I like that eerie pumpkin or is it a turnip??

    Reply
  24. I haven’t heard this story before. It really makes the devil out to be quite stupid! I love the traditional jack o’lanterns but I don’t think I’m skilled enough with a knife to be able to make one!
    Debbie

    Reply
  25. Gullible Satan fell for Jack’s trickery…over and over again? Makes him quite the moron.
    I’m wondering, what’s the transition story from twisted, terrifying fellow to plump, cheery fellow?

    Reply
  26. In Sudan we call him Ab Lambah, or the devil carrying the lamp. His purpose is to trick people in the desert at night, so they would follow his lamp and loose their way.I guess he lost his way in this version, maybe that’s why he’s doing this to people now?

    Reply
  27. Mangelwurzels? Now I must Google.

    I do love me some Halloween, even if I don’t believe in evil spirits.
    🙂

    Heather

    Reply
  28. Mangelwurzel? Sounds like something from the Harry Potter universe! We will be carving our pumpkins today. Happy Halloween!

    Reply
    • JH

      And a belated Happy Halloween to you too! Hope you posted pics of those pumpkins.

      Reply
  29. Just finished reading City of Ghosts, and loved it! Started reading The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts last night. Fun and spooky reads at Halloween, or any time! Yes, I’d heard about the history behind carved pumpkins, turnips, etc. We did not carve pumpkins this year. I’d better get more candy!!!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for reading and reviewing my GhostWriters series, Mary. It’s SO appreciated.

      Reply
  30. I knew about carving turnips, but I didn’t know the legend behind it. I really like it.

    Thanks for joining Trick-or-Treat Reads.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for organizing the blog hop, Patricia. I hope it did well, and that everyone found some new readers.

      Reply
  31. Hell of a tale. Never heard that one before, but I like it. Personally, I always make Jacks, but I often have Smudges inside them as well.

    Reply
    • JH

      Smudges? I haven’t heard of that tradition. Will have to look it up.

      Reply
  32. I think it’s a lot easier to hollow out and carve a pumpkin instead of a turnip 🙂

    Contemplating your book. I don’t usually read ghost stories. But…

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, it’s free. Can’t really go wrong with that.

      Reply
  33. It never ceases to amaze me how many of our traditions have their roots in something creepy or macabre. This was a new tale to me. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Barbara. I love all the legends behind our Halloween traditions.

      Reply
  34. The Jack ‘O Lantern legend is so fascinating! I haven’t heard it in as much detail as you put it here. I’ve only read about the gist of it, mainly that Stingy Jack was so evil that not even the devil wanted him in hell so he was forced to carry a lantern around the world for an eternity or a very long time. Happy Halloween!

    Reply
    • JH

      BUT was he evil, or just smarter than the devil? Guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

      A belated happy Halloween to you, Steven. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  35. I’ve always loved the Jack-o-Lantern story. But man, using a turnip is metal. Must be a bitch to carve.

    Reply
    • JH

      I would say. And whoever did the one in the photo gets an A+ for creepy carving skills.

      Reply
  36. I’ve never heard that story before. It’s a great explanation for jack-o-lanterns. I can’t remember the last time I made one. I used to love doing it as a kid and roasting the pumpkin seeds in the oven.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, the pumpkin seeds are the best part, aren’t they? I guess it’s hard to get hold of a pumpkin when you’re sailing the seven seas.

      Reply
  37. What a wily coyote that Jack was! There are so many stories about the Jack-O-Lantern that you can never read all of them. Each one I’ve read does have Jack at its center, and I love all of them. Thanks for this one. Happy Halloween!!

    My new blog is here: http://www.cleemckenziebooks.com/

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lee. And congrats on the new blog. Will hop on over right now!

      Reply
  38. Thanks for sharing that story, JH. I did not know any of this.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Damyanti.

      Reply
  39. Jack sure was an inventive guy! It must be hard to trick the devil these days – he has probably experienced it all. I did not know the story, but I do know that it is easier to carve a pumpkin than a turnip! Great story!!

    Reply
  40. I’ve heard a version of this story before, but it never made sense to me. This sounds a lot more reasonable. I don’t think I’ll be needing a traditional Jack anytime soon to save on candy; our doorbell only rang twice this year. I just gave out what I had on hand. It worked.

    Reply
  41. I never heard this tale before. I did smile at one point, though. When I was a child, we had this nasty old neighbor. My mother used to say that she was still alive cause God didn’t want her and the devil wouldn’t take her.

    Reply
    • JH

      Perhaps that neighbour was related to Jack O’ the Lantern!

      Reply

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