Long ago in Ireland, the country people made lanterns out of hollowed out turnips or even large potatoes. A little animal fat and a wick provided a light to guide workers home at night. In Scotland and Ireland, the children still carry these ‘punkies’ on Halloween night. Based on an old Celtic tradition giving new meaning by the church Halloween celebrations have spread and continued across the world.
It is one of my favourite times of the year for telling spooky stories and sharing the history of this popular event. ‘The Legend of the Jack o’ Lantern’ is one of them. This is the abbreviated version.
Long ago in old Ireland there lived a mean and stingy man by the name of Jack. He was so unpopular that the only person to drink with him was the devil himself. Oh, a fine old time they had together but when the time came to pay for the drinks neither was willing to find the money. “Sure and aren’t you the devil himself?” asked Jack “Why don’t you turn yourself into a sixpence and pay the man?” This appealed to old Satan and in a flash there was the coin on the table. Did Jack pay? Not a bit of it. Just as quickly he picked up that sixpence and put it in his pocket next to his rosary and as any good church going person would know … the devil could do nothing against the sign of the cross!
“Let me out, let me out!” screamed old Satan. “Oh, I will that,” said Jack,” but first I need you to promise me a year of good luck.” Well what could the devil do but grant his wish and as Jack took the sixpence from his pocket it changed again and the devil took off in high dudgeon I can tell you.
The following year nothing could go wrong for Jack. The devil had kept his promise BUT as everyone knows a deal with the devil costs you your soul and a year later he came back to claim it. Once again Jack was able to trick him but when he asked for ten more years he forgot to ask for luck and that soon ran out. He became sick and died within that time. Well, obviously they didn’t want him in heaven and when he reached the gates of hell the devil didn’t want him there. Just before the gates closed on his fiery dwelling Satan threw Jack a burning coal which he placed in his turnip lantern. Now, condemned to walk the earth for ever more he can only be seen on Halloween night when all the spirits are about. He is, of course, Jack of the lantern, or Jack ‘O Lantern.
When the Irish settlers arrived in North America they discovered the pumpkin which is much easier to carve than a turnip and our own Jack ‘O Lanterns began to appear!