The origins of the jack o’lantern do not begin with pumpkins, as many are familiar with. As the legend goes, in Ireland there was a man called Stingy Jack who made a deal with the Devil. He invited the Devil along to the pub to have a drink with him. However, as Jack was a stingy man, he didn’t want to pay for his drink and talked the Devil into becoming a coin. Jack then, in turn, kept the coin himself and put it in his pocket next to a cross which kept the Devil from returning to his previous form.
Eventually, Jack did free the Devil from his pocket. Jack did this and asked the Devil to not bother him for one year and said that if Jack should die, that he not claim Jack’s soul. The very next year, Jack managed to talk him into going up a tree after some fruit only to carve a cross into the tree to keep the Devil from being able to come down. Jack wanted another deal in return for the Devil’s freedom. He wanted ten more years without being bothered by the Devil.
Unfortunately for Jack, he soon died and neither God nor the Devil would take his soul. The Devil gave him a burning coal to carry as he wandered the Earth, which Jack put into a turnip. People began to refer to him as Jack of the Lantern or Jack O’Lantern. To keep him and other bad spirits away, people began to carve their own turnips and potatoes, as well as other vegetables. They would light candles inside them and put them in the windows and by the doors. Eventually, pumpkins were added in when it was found that they also made good jack o’lanterns.
The story of Stingy Jack was first published in the Dublin Penny Journal in 1835 on Halloween. This was a weekly newspaper that later published as a series of several volumes. The journal looked at Irish legends and history as well as Irish identity at the time, among other topics and was in publication, in some form, from 1832 through 1836.
This is just one origin tale of the jack o’lantern. There are others out there, some of which are just slight variations of this story. This is one that I have seen several times over in various sources and felt more comfortable telling. Eventually, jack o’lanterns became something that people did for fun and carving contests became the norm. There were advertisements for contests not too long after the Stingy Jack story was published, but people had been making jack o’lanterns of some sort for many, many years before that.
- History.com – Origins of the Jack O’Lantern: https://www.history.com/news/history-of-the-jack-o-lantern-irish-origins
- thevintagenews.com- Legend of the Jack O’Lantern: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/10/20/jack-o-lantern-the-legend-behind-the-halloween-pumpkin/
- Jack O’Lantern Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack-o%27-lantern
- Dublin Penny Journal: https://books.google.com/books?id=9gLSAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA230&dq=history+of+jack+o+lanterns#v=onepage&q=history%20of%20jack%20o%20lanterns&f=false