Who is Jack O’Lantern?

The tradition of pumpkin carving began in Ireland, where people carved scary faces into turnips on All Hallows’ Eve. But why are these creepy carvings called jack-o’-lanterns? Well, dear reader, therein lies a tale … the tale of Stingy Jack. The Irish say that Stingy Jack was a drunk and a trickster. He even fooled the devil— more than once—to save his dark soul from eternal damnation. Indeed, one time Jack tricked the devil, who was about to take Jack to the netherworld, into climbing a tree to pick him an apple—a last meal, if you will. While the devil was up the tree, Jack placed crosses around it so the devil could not come down until he promised not to carry Jack off to hell. When Jack died, his wicked ways caused St Peter to send him away from the gates of heaven. The devil, however, kept his word and prevented Jack’s entrance into hell. Instead, he sent Jack off to roam the earth for eternity, with only a glowing coal ember placed inside a carved-out turnip to light his way. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, and then Jack O’Lantern. Throughout Ireland, and then Scotland and England, people carved their own lanterns to keep Stingy Jack away on All Hallows’ Eve, when the dead walk among us. They used homegrown produce such as turnips, potatoes and beets. When they came to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, they found a better canvas for Jack’s lantern—the pumpkin!

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