Origin of Halloween pumpkin: the myth of Stingy Jack

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Wed, 25 Oct 2017 - 10:00 GMT

Decembers Children-Stingy Jack - Decembers Children - YouTube thumbnail

Decembers Children-Stingy Jack - Decembers Children - YouTube thumbnail

CAIRO – 25 October 2017: Halloween cannot go by without lighting up the insides of a few carved out pumpkins. Well, maybe more than just a few, but why do people do that and who started the tradition? According to folktales passed down through the Celtic elders of Ireland, there is a story behind the modern-day tradition of carving pumpkins into what we know as “Jack O’ lanterns”, and it goes as follows:

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Rankin Bass Jack O' Lantern Chris Bryant - YouTube thumbnail


Once upon a time far before Halloween, there was a man named Stingy Jack. Jack had more than a fair share of his name, and stingy he was; a drunken, mean and cheap old man who liked eating turnips so much and carrying them around with him, or he would steal them whenever he had a chance. Jack also liked tricking people and went so far as to trick the devil himself, more than once!

According to various versions of the story on the History, Mental Floss and Novareinna websites, he asked the devil to turn into a coin so he could buy a drink with it, and in return, Jack would give him his soul. But, when the devil did turn into a coin, Jack got greedy and kept the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross so that the devil would not be able to turn back to his form. Another time he asked the devil for an apple from a high tree in exchange for his soul and the devil agreed, but when the devil went up the tree, Jack drew a cross on the tree trunk, keeping the devil captive. In both times, Jack did not let the devil go until he promised that if Jack died within a few years, he would not go to hell and his soul would not be claimed by the devil, and the devil agreed to the deal.

Jack's time went by and ended with him confident that he avoided eternal suffering, but little did he know. When he died, heaven did not accept him either because of all his evil and wrong doings. Jack then went to visit his old friend, the devil and asked him if he could enter his realm. The devil told him that he will be keeping his part of the deal and will not let him into hell or claim his soul. Instead, Jack will now go back to the middle ground between what is above and what is below. He will be stranded for eternity.

The journey back to the world of the living was dark, cold and windy, so the devil gave Jack an ember from the depths of hell to light his way. Jack carved out one of his turnips and put the ember in it, like a lantern.

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Ember - Paweł Kadysz – Pexels


That is why Celtics called him “Jack of the Lantern”. They used to carve up scary faces into turnips and light them with coal toward him and other evil spirits off.

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Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o'-lantern - rannṗáirtí anaiṫnid - Wikimedia commons


But with time, Jack of the Lantern turned into the Jack-o-lantern. Turnips turned into pumpkins and coal into candles. And what was once a feared superstition is now merely a folktale lingering to a parade of celebration.

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Pumpkin -photo-214334- pexels


Jack used his turnip as a lantern and went on to roam among the living ever since…

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