Wednesday, October 2, 2019

V - The Jack-O-Lantern

Did you know the original Jack O' Lanterns were not pumkins but turnips? 
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The custom of carving pumpkins or turnips into 'Jack O' Lanterns' dates back many centuries to the story of Stingy Jack, an Irish folktale.

The Legend of “Stingy Jack” -
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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.”

Following this tradition, the Irish and Scotts carved scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placed burning embers in them. The thought being that Stingy Jack and other evil spirits would stay away, frightened by the lit carvings they placed in their windows or outside doorways.  In England, large beets are used. Eventually the tradition of Jack O' Lanterns was brought to the America. Here the use of turnips was changed to pumpkins, a native fruit the immigrants had never seen before. 

(Examples of some Victorian Halloween Cards)
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