Photo by Beth Teutschmann on Unsplash

With October coming to an end, for many people, it’s time to carve pumpkins into Jack O’ Lanterns. Have you ever wondered where this fascinating tradition comes from? In this post let’s take a dive into the history of the Jack O’ Lantern.

It all starts with an Irish folktale called The Legend of Stingy Jack

So who exactly is this “Stingy Jack?”

As the story goes, Jack lived in a small Irish village. He was known among the villagers as a drunk and not a very nice person. In fact, the Devil himself heard many rumors about Jack and became jealous of his wicked reputation. So, the Devil decided to pay Jack a visit and see if the rumors were true. 

As usual, Jack had been drinking. Stumbling home, he came upon the Devil waiting for him. Jack soon realized this was his time. Thinking quickly Jack convinced the Devil to take him to a pub to get one last drink before he has to Hades. 

The two sat in the pub having drink after drink. Finally it was time to pay, but Jack did not want to pay for his drinks so he convinced the Devil, yet again. Since the Devil had no cash, Jack persuaded him to turn into a silver coin to pay the bartender for their drinks. Jack slipped this coin into his pocket. Inside Jack’s pocket there was also a crucifix. This crucifix prevented the Devil from being able to change back into his original form. 

Jack made a deal with the Devil. He would take the coin away from the crucifix so the Devil could regain his form as long as he promised not to bother Jack for an entire year and, if Jack were to die, the Devil would not claim his soul. The Devil agreed and Jack let him free.

Sure enough, one full year passes and the Devil returns.

Jack was able to fool him before, so he thought he’d try again. This time Jack tells the Devil that before he goes, he would like to eat an apple. The Devil foolishly grants Jack his wish and climbs a nearby apple tree to fetch Jack an apple. While he is climbing, Jack surrounds the base of the tree with crucifixes, preventing the Devil from climbing down. Jack makes another deal with the Devil. Only this time, he makes him promise to leave him alone for ten whole years and still not claim his soul if he dies. The Devil agrees yet again.

Not long after, Jack finally dies, due to his heavy drinking. Jack knew the Devil was not coming to take him to Hades so he prepared himself to enter Heaven. However once he arrives at Heaven’s gates, he is denied entry, due to his sinful ways. Jack didn’t know what to do so he went down to the gates of Hades and begged the Devil to let him in, but the Devil had to keep his promise and denied him entry. Upon turning him away, the Devil gave Jack a hollowed out turnip with a single ember inside of it to guide Jack as he roamed the netherworld for the rest of eternity. 

I know what you’re thinking. The story had nothing to do with pumpkins, so where did that aspect of the tradition come from? Well, centuries ago, the Irish would tell the tale and then carve grimacing faces into turnips and potatoes. They would place them by their front doors in hopes to scare away Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits. Over time, Irish immigrants brought the story to America, the home of the pumpkin, and we soon discovered that pumpkins are perfect for carving Jack O’ Lanterns.

Fun tips for carving!

  • Use A Template!
    When carving your pumpkin, it is a smart idea to plan out your design! Whether you print out a design or draw your own it is a good idea to plan ahead.
  • Get the correct tools.
    Carving a pumpkin can be easy with the right tools. Many stores sell pumpkin carving kits. Make sure your tools are sharp and sturdy enough to carve into the famous fruit. 
  • Paint, don’t carve.
    If you don’t want to risk carving out the perfect face, you can always opt for painting. Go to your local craft store and buy simple acrylic paints and paint a face onto your pumpkin.


Leave a Reply