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The Story of the Jack O’ Lantern

One of my favorite stories to tell the kids around Halloween is one that isn’t told as often as many of the legends and fables we hear around Christmas time. It’s the story of Stingy Jack and how the Jack O’ Lantern came to be.

The best thing to do while telling this story to the kids is to either tell it while carving your own Jack O’ Lanterns or while doing some fun and easy pumpkin crafts you can find for free on websites such as DLTK (my personal go-to website for fun crafts to do with the kids).

Many people assume pumpkin carving is an American tradition, but it actually originated in Ireland not with pumpkins but with turnips. As the story goes, the Devil himself was wandering the streets of Ireland one night and overheard two men talking about the most devilish trickster ever to walk the earth, a man named Stingy Jack. The Devil, being the Devil, found himself somewhat jealous. Curiosity got the better of him, and the Devil went in search of Stingy Jack. Jack was wandering the streets, up to no good. The Devil decided then and there that he would claim Jack’s soul and take it with him back to Hell. When the Devil came upon Jack and told him it was time to collect his soul, Jack lamented, having already figured the day would come eventually. But he asked the Devil for one favor before they left. “Please one last bite to eat before I go” asked Jack. The Devil agreed, and made his way up a fruit tree to pick Jack some fresh fruit. Once the Devil was in the highest branches of the trees Jack quickly laid a circle of crosses around the base of the tree. This prevented the Devil from being able to climb back down.

Again, Jack bargained with the Devil. The Devil agreed that if Jack removed the crosses from beneath the tree so that he could climb down, he would never allow Jack’s soul to enter Hell. Jack removed the crosses, and he and the Devil parted ways.

Eventually Jack died. He made his way to the heavenly gates where he was turned away. Lost and unsure where to go, Jack found his way to Hell. There he was reminded of the deal he had made with the Devil. The Devil explained that because of their deal, he could not allow Jack into Hell and that Jack was doomed to wander the earth in eternal darkness for the rest of eternity.

Because the Devil felt sorry for Jack, he gave him a small piece of burning coal to give him some light on his endless dark journey. Jack could not hold the burning coal, so he found a turnip. He cut it open then placed the burning coal inside. He carried the lit turnip by his side as he roamed the dark night. People came to fear old Jack; never knowing what tricks his aimless soul might be up to. So to keep him away they began carving turnips and placing candles inside and placing them outside their doors.

The tradition continued for many years and eventually the Irish brought the story of Stingy Jack with them to America, along with the tradition of carving turnips. But in America they found a fruit that they had never seen before — pumpkins. With a much better size and shape, pumpkins soon replaced the turnip. And in honor of old Jack they began calling the carved pumpkins, Jack O’ Lanterns.

Visit DLTK’s pumpkin craft section for some fun crafts ideas to do while telling your kids the tale of Stingy Jack.

  • http://www.fotomacro.etsy.com angie

    love this story! never heard it before! I found this on wiki: "Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation. In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chronicles of British holidays and folk customs make any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns in connection with Halloween. Neither do any of the standard works of the early twentieth century.[5] "

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    I love pumpkin carving parties…can I come?

  • Jessica L.

    I’m having a carving party this weekend. Can’t wait to tell this story!

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    Interesting story. I hadn't heart it before.

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