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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

The legend that led to the Jack o' Lantern

Oct 03, 2023 10:52AM ● By Randal C. Hill

In a tale from ancient Ireland, the local blacksmith in one particular village was a notorious drunk who lied, cheated, played pranks, manipulated people and avoided spending his own money whenever possible. Locals called him Jack the Smith, but behind his back, he was Stingy Jack. 

Lucifer, hearing of Jack’s reputation, decided to seek out the rascal. When the devil met him, Jack invited his visitor to the local tavern for a drink. 

True to his nickname, Jack claimed to be broke when the drinking was done. The wily scoundrel then convinced Satan to turn himself into a coin so Jack could settle the evening’s tab. The bemused devil did as he was asked, and Jack slipped the coin into his coat pocket—and next to a silver crucifix, which kept Beelzebub from returning to his original form. Jack then left the tavern without paying the bill.

Jack eventually let Lucifer loose, but only after making him promise not to bother him for one year. And—oh, yes—not to claim the blacksmith’s soul when the Grim Reaper appeared later.  

Jack was still up to his usual schemes one year later. When the devil came to collect the reprobate’s soul, Jack begged for a single last request: a juicy red apple. When Satan climbed a nearby apple tree, Jack hurriedly carved the sign of the cross into the tree’s trunk. As a result, Beelzebub couldn’t return to solid ground until he promised again to leave Jack alone—this time for a full decade.  

Predictably, Jack wasted the next 10 years drinking, causing problems and annoying others. When he finally died and met St. Peter at the pearly gates, the good saint turned him away, convinced that God wouldn’t want such a miserable specimen of humanity in heaven. 

But when Jack turned up at the gates of hell, the devil—still smarting from the tricks that Jack had played on him earlier—refused to admit him. (After all, Lucifer smugly maintained, that had been part of their original bargain.) 

Satan soon came up with his own way to punish the insufferable miscreant. Giving Jack a single chunk of burning coal from the fires of hell to light his way, he sent him away to “find his own hell” in the netherworld. There, Jack plucked a turnip from the ground, carved an opening in it and stuck the ember inside to create a makeshift lantern. He has tirelessly roamed the Earth ever since, finding neither peace nor a resting place.

In time, the Irish began referring to his ghostly figure as “Jack of the lantern,” which was eventually trimmed to read “jack o’ lantern.”

People throughout Great Britain would eventually replicate Jack’s lantern by carving eerie faces into turnips, potatoes, gourds and beets. Eventually, migrants brought the Irish tradition of Stingy Jack to America, and it was here they discovered that pumpkins, native to America, made perfect jack o’ lanterns. 

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