2013-10-24 / From The Garden

The Irish Story of ‘Stingy Jack’


“Stingy Jack” turnip. “Stingy Jack” turnip. Perhaps the most well-known symbol of Halloween is the jacko’ lantern. The tradition of carving faces into pumpkins and illuminating the figures with candles has been around for centuries – but how did this ritual come to be?

The practice originates from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack, who was aptly named, invited the devil to have a drink with him, but did not want to pay for their drinks. Jack convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin so Jack could use the money to buy the drinks. The devil transformed himself, but Jack decided to keep the coin, placing it in his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the devil from changing to his original form.

Jack eventually freed the devil on the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year, and, if Jack were to die, the devil would not claim his soul.

Jack tricked the devil again the following year by telling him to climb a tree to pick fruit. While in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree’s bark so the devil could not come down until he promised not to bother Jack for 10 more years.

Shortly after, Jack died.

The legend says God did not allow an unsavory person like Jack into heaven. The devil, upset by the tricks Jack had played on him, would not claim his soul and restricted Jack from entering hell. As punishment, the devil sent Jack off into the dark night – an empty purgatory – with only a burning coal to light the way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the earth with it 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 evil spirits.

When immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States, they soon found that pumpkins, native to America, made perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

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