Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween and the Jack o' Lantern

There is no symbol more emblematic of Halloween than the jack o' lantern.
According to,
the jack o' lantern is based on Irish tradition and folklore.
It seems there was an Irishman named Jack who 
was constantly aggravating the devil.

First he asks the devil to turn himself into a coin
so Jack can buy a wee bit of rye whiskey.
The devil complies, but Jack pockets the coin
along with a small silver cross, so the devil is trapped.
Jack released the devil after getting him to promise he would leave Jack alone for a year.
As you can guess, Jack continued to outsmart the devil in one way or another.

Eventually Jack dies. God refuses to allow such a trickster into heaven,
and the devil bans Jack from hell 
but tosses a lighted coal to him as a final insult.
Jack puts the coal in a carved out turnip and uses it to provide a glimmer of light
in his eternally dark world.
So "jack of the lantern," now wanders in the night with only a lighted turnip to guide him.

Of course nowadays, a lighted turnip doesn't have the same cachet  as a lighted pumpkin, 
so I doubt we'll see carved Halloween turnips in the US any time soon.
But next year, you might tuck one in with your carved pumpkins,
and whisper a little prayer for old Jack.

Happy Halloween!


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