Stingy Jack - the legend behind the Halloween pumpkin

  | James Innes

Pumpkins have long been associated with Halloween. This year is no different with carved fruit inscribed with ghoulish faces and lit by candles from within will be decorating porches and windows across America and in many other parts of the world. Yet, although many people will know the term “jack o’lantern”, less well-known is the underlying legend, and the mythical Irish figure known as “Stingy Jack.”

According to the tale, a man called “Stingy Jack” invited the Devil to have a drink with him. However, Jack was unwilling to pay, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself in to a coin, so that Jack could buy the drinks. No sooner had the Devil done so, however, then Jack decided to keep the money and put it in his pocket, along with a silver cross which prevented the Devil changing himself back to his original form. Eventually, Jack relented and freed the Devil, but only on the condition that he leave Jack alone for a year, and not claim his soul if he died.

The following year, Jack was up to his tricks again, persuading the Devil to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit. Whilst the Devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross in the tree bark, preventing the Devil from coming back down again, until he had promised to leave Jack alone for 10 years, and not to claim his soul if he died.

Soon after, Jack died. According to the legend, God was so upset by Jack’s behaviour he refused to allow him to enter Heaven. And the Devil, upset by Jack’s tricks and honouring his promise not to claim his soul, would not let him enter Hell either. Instead, Jack was sent out into the night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out lantern and has been roaming the earth ever since.

The sinister myth behind an innocent Halloween tradition.


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