The story of Jack O Lantern

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The term Jack-o-lantern was first coined for people and not pumpkins. Since people usually think about the shining glowing pumpkins in today’s day, this fact might surprise people at first.

As far back as 1163, the term was used to refer to a watchman or a man with a lantern. A few decades later the term slightly started to change and people started to refer to Jack-o-lanterns as being a mysterious light sometimes seen at night over bogs, swamps, and marshes.

These ghastly lights were actually gases from decomposing plant matter that ignited as they came into contact with electricity or heat or even as they oxidize. For generations and centuries, before this scientific explanation was known, people often shared stories to explain the lights, often resulting in various themed scary spectaculars.

In Ireland, dating as far back as the 1500s, those stories often revolved around a guy named Jack.

According to the tale of a legend passed down from families, the origin of the Jack-o-lantern can be found in a story of a young blacksmith.

As the story goes, Stingy Jack—often described as a blacksmith—invited the devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks from his own pocket and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to settle the tab. The devil did so, but Jack skipped out on the bill and kept the devil coin in his pocket with a silver cross so that the devil couldn’t shift back to his original form. Jack eventually let the devil loose but made him promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge on Jack, and wouldn’t claim his soul when he died.

Later, Jack irked the devil again by convincing him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit, then carved a cross in the trunk so that the devil couldn’t climb back down (apparently, the devil is a sucker). Jack freed him again, on the condition that the devil once again did not take revenge and did not claim Jack’s soul.

When Stingy Jack eventually died, God would not allow him into heaven, and the devil, keeping his word, rejected Jack’s soul at the gates of hell. Instead, the devil gave him a single burning coal to light his way and sent him off into the night to “find his own hell.”

His only possessions were a turnip with a gouged-out center and that burning coal. He proceeded to place the coal inside the turnip to light his way through the dark countryside where he still wanders today… and for all eternity.


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Shaun Zietsman

Blogger and Content Creator from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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