The Legend Of The Jack O’Lantern

The Legend of the Jack O'Lantern | Life With Lorelai

A Halloween Tale of Stingy Jack

It was a dark night in Ireland, and the bitter wind whistled through the trees. The moon shone bright in the sky casting eerie shadows through the branches. Along the root-knotted path, the man called Stingy Jack made his way to the local pub. Fallen leaves rustled beneath Jack’s feet. In the deepest darkest part of the wood, Jack met the Devil and invited him to come along to the pub for a drink.

Jack and the Devil entered the pub and found a couple of seats. Living up to his nickname, Stingy Jack did not want to pay for the drinks. He convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay the barkeep. The Devil liked the idea of free drinks and did as Jack asked. But once he had done so, Jack decided to keep the coin and placed it in his pocket next to a silver cross.

Stingy Jack caught the Devil. Held next to a cross, the Devil was unable to change back into his original form. Jack eventually struck a bargain with the Devil. Jack freed the Devil under the condition that he would leave Jack in peace and not bother him for one year, and if Jack should die during that year, the Devil could not claim his soul.

A year went by, and Jack met the Devil again, this time in an orchard. Jack asked the Devil to climb an apple tree to pick them some fruit to eat. But again Jack’s intentions were not what they seemed. While the Devil was up the tree picking the fruit, Jack carved the sign of the cross into the tree’s bark, thereby trapping the Devil amidst the branches.

Having tricked the Devil a second time, Jack decided he had better make a larger bargain. He did not allow the Devil to come down until the Devil had promised not to bother Jack for ten more years and, as before, the Devil could not claim Jack’s soul if he should die.

However, Stingy Jack did not live ten more years; he died shortly after. As the legend goes, when Jack arrived at the Pearly Gates, God would not allow such an unsavory character entrance to Heaven. The Devil, upset and twice tricked by Jack, kept his word and did not claim Jack’s soul. He would not allow Jack into Hell. Instead, the Devil doomed Jack to wander the Earth forever looking for a place to rest and sent him out into the dark night.

The Devil, still angry, threw a burning coal from Hell at the man who dared deceive him. Jack placed the coal into a hollowed-out turnip to light his way and began his roaming. The ghostly figure with the glowing light was often seen by the Irish who began to call him, Jack of the Lantern, and then, simply, Jack O’Lantern.

Flaming Pumpkin | Life With Lorelai

The Irish people began carving their own versions of Jack’s lanterns using turnips and potatoes. They would carve scary faces in them and set them into windows and near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil wandering spirits.

The tradition spread to Scotland, and then to England where large beets were carved. Immigrants of these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition to the United States, where they soon discovered that pumpkins, a native fruit to North America, made for a perfect jack o’lantern.

Do you have any favorite Halloween Tales?

Have you ever used a turnip or potato as a jack-o-lantern?

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This entry was posted in Halloween, History, Holidays, Life With Lorelai, Pumpkin Carving, Seasonal, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to The Legend Of The Jack O’Lantern

  1. I’ve never heard that story before. You know, I’ve actually never really given thought to why we carve jack o lanterns -it was just one of those things I always just did.

  2. I am SO glad that you posted this! I LOVE this kind of historical stuff – I can’t believe I haven’t looked this up yet! Thank you!

  3. I had no idea this was the story behind Jack o’lantern! In fact I never gave it much thought 🙂 That is a cool spooky tale. It reminds me somehow of the imp in the bottle, did you ever read or hear that story. Oh it was so creepy, like Edgar Allen Poe creepy, at least it really stuck with me.

  4. I had never known why we carve the Jack o Lantern, but this is a great legend. Most of the legends probably have a wee bit truth to them. Not sure what this truth would be… Great story to tell for Halloween though.

  5. Thanks for sharing, I didnt know what the history was at all just figured it was a fun activity 🙂

  6. Monica says:

    I’ve never heard this story before! It came at the perfect time. Did you carve those amazing pumpkins too?

  7. Pam W says:

    I used to tell this story to my kids when they were younger. We had another favorite. I can’t remember it all but it was the 12 days of Halloween.

  8. Bonnie Frank says:

    I soooo wish I was teaching right now–I’d read it to my students!

  9. This is so interesting. I love learning about the why behind the tradition. I thought it was some pagan tradition.

  10. I have actually never heard of this before. What a cool story! I’m going to have to tell the kids and hubby about this. 🙂

  11. ericrlunaric says:

    The legend of the jack o lantern and Jack Stingy is cute. I enjoy mythology where the devils are outwitted by mortals! The transition from samhain to halloween throughout time is interesting too. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I haven’t heard this story before. It is funny how things transfer from other countries into our traditions.

  13. Love Joy says:

    So that’s how they started to make jack o’ lanterns 🙂 haven’t heard this story before as we don’t really celebrate Halloween. 🙂

  14. Marika says:

    What a great fun story about Halloween, enjoyed reading it.

  15. What a great legend. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Rosey says:

    That’s interesting! Pumpkins do make perfect jack-o-lanterns, and you reminded me I need to bring ours in and get them room temp. We’re carving tonight. 🙂

  17. adelien says:

    I swear I love this story and would like to read it to kids tomorrow. Thank you for sharing.

  18. That was an interesting story. It was very descriptive.

  19. I never knew the history of the Jack O Lantern. 🙂 I will pass this on to my children one day! Very nice read. Thank you.

  20. kimverrochi says:

    I think My grandsons will enjoy this story very much, especially with just days til Halloween ! What ever are you going to do when this Holiday is gone?! You are the queen of Halloween !!! Have loved all your posts, I had lost my halloween spirit but finding it all because of you! so much fun!!

    • I’m glad I could renew your Halloween Spirit!!! I am having a blast carving pumpkins…been super busy. My blog has absolutely exploded over Halloween…over 4,200 views today alone, and the day is not over yet. It’s all very exciting. I hope your grandsons enjoy the legend. 🙂

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