Have you ever wondered why we spend our childhoods carving pumpkins, eager to bring their insides to life with flames? Historically speaking, some believed it was to ward off spirits, while others intended to scare off animals. Nonetheless, we still wake up the morning after All Hallows Eve to the decomposing, squirrel-eaten remains of a pumpkin whose only fate is to be tossed away.
What is the true significance of this traditional past time? Is it as simple as a way to embellish our homes with a festive light during Halloween, or is there something more cryptic? The answer lies within the tale of an Irish lad, known famously as Stingy Jack.
A few centuries ago, in the heart of Ireland, there once lived a lonesome old drunk, nicknamed Stingy Jack. He loved practical jokes, yet was often seen as manipulative and deceptive.
One day, Jack had an encounter with the Devil and saw an opportunity to snatch his next victim. He tricked the Devil into scaling an apple tree, trapping him by surrounding the base of the tree with crosses. Unable to come in contact with a cross, the Devil was stuck in the branches. Jack made a deal with the Devil, which enabled him to escape the tree so long as he never welcomed Jack into Hell. The Devil agreed, was released from Jacks tree trap and descended back to the gates of Hell.
Years later, Jack died a lonely and bitter death but was promptly denied entrance past the Pearly Gates of Heaven. Per Saint Peter, Jack was told he led a life far too miserable, worthless and cruel to be deemed worthy of the gates of Heaven. Terrified and scorned, Jack began his descent down to the gates of Hell, where he was reunited with the Devil. Loyal to his promise, the Devil banned Jack from entering the gates of Hell, leaving Jack imprisoned in Purgatory, a gloomy Netherworld of afterlife. Left alone to wander in the void of in-between, Jacks favorite food and only possession remaining was a single turnip.
Looking to escape, Jack turned to the Devil, pleading for help and guidance. The Devil offered him red-hot kindling, straight from the fiery pits of Hell. Jack used the kindling to illuminate the path on his journey and turned to his turnip, which he hollowed out. He then used it to house the flames provided by the Devil and created his very own lantern.
For years, it was Irish culture to adorn their doorstep with a turnip to light a path for Jack and prevent him from haunting their homes. Once the tradition found its way to the States in the late 19th century, Irish immigrants found it more fitting to use the easier to carve U.S. native pumpkin as opposed to turnips. So, the legend goes that we light our own lanterns, known as Jack OLanterns, every Halloween in order to help light a path to prevent Jack and other spooky spirits from mistaking our homes for theirs.