So on my way home tonight, I noticed a house that put a plastic pumpkin (jack o lantern) on a lamppost in thei yard. Truthfully, I’m kind of over the Halloween macabre decorating thing (and have been since spending an October two years ago confronting the reality of grieving death). But some things I find kind of interesting. And in spite of the it’s now cool to have backlash against the popularity of it, I do like pumpkins.
Mostly because I like the history of it.
Although, truthfully, the glory of a jack o lantern’s grin belongs to a turnip.
And after chopping up a turnip to make a mash for a shepherd’s pie the other night, I have to say I’m rather glad we made that shift. I don’t much like scooping out cold pumpkin guts, but thank GOD we don’t have to carve faces into a turnip. I think that would be a rather grisly task... and maybe that is what adds the horror to it.
Anyway, tonight’s sighting of that plastic pumpkin atop a lamppost reminded me of a story I found on the internet one day of lollygagging when I should have been working. I’m pleased to find that in spite of the fact the History Channel is no longer about history, they still have the article I read ten or so years ago. A story, that much though I like, I have yet to learn to tell it well enough in my own vocabulary. Maybe a kiss of the Blarney stone is necessary for that this summer…
But now, for you my readers, here is the story of Stingy Jack, courtesy of history.com.
“People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.”
So now you know. And if they are out of pumpkins at the store, you can always try a turnip or beet.