Halloween is coming up tomorrow and all around the world people will seize this celebration as an opportunity to dress up, get drunk and act silly. But what few people know is that the one of Halloween’s most famous traditions also originates from a mythical drunkard. This is the story of the jack-o’-lantern, the carved pumpkin with a light inside, once introduced by a fellow named Stingy Jack, also known as Drunk Jack or Jack of the Lantern.
According to the legend Stingy Jack was a man who spent all of his days getting drunk and swindling people, as he traveled from village to village in the Irish countryside. One night at All Hallow’s Eve Jack was completely drunk again in a pub, when he ran out of money. The Devil showed up and saw an opportunity. He offered this drunkard to pay him another drink in exchange for his soul. Jack accepted the deal and the Devil shapeshifted into a coin for Jack to pay the bartender. Jack however didn’t order anything just yet, but put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross that made the Devil powerless. Jack then started to re-negotiate the terms and didn’t let the Devil go before he promised that he wouldn’t claim the old drunk’s soul for another ten years.
Those ten boozy years passed fast. As Stingy Jack was walking a country road, he once again met the Devil, who had been waiting to take his soul. “Okay, of course I’ll go with you,” Jack said. “But before I burn in Hell for all eternity, can you please give me an apple from that tree over there?” The Devil saw little harm in that and climbed the tree to grant Jack his last wish on Earth. But as soon as he did, the swindler placed crosses all around the apple tree and had Satan trapped once again. This time Jack made him promise that he would never claim his soul, not even after his death. In the end the Devil had no other option than to agree.
Since Jack had nothing to fear anymore, he lived his last years on Earth more sinful than ever. He drank like a fish and tricked people like never before. When he finally died and went to the Gates of Heaven, he was refused entrance. “Someone who has been that drunk and deceitful doesn’t belong here”, was the verdict. So Jack’s lost soul turned to his old acquaintance Satan to see if there was a place in Hell for him. The Devil however held his promise and denied him entrance too. Jack had no other option than to go back to Earth.
The way back there was quite dark and windy, so the Devil did gave Jack a light from the fires of Hell, which he put in a hollowed-out turnip. Turnips were among Jack’s favorite foods and he would usually carry one around with him. From that day on Jack’s soul was doomed to roam the Earth carrying his jack-o’-lantern.
In the British folk tradition people started carving their own jack-o’-lanterns from turnips to chase away bad spirits. But when immigrants brought this tradition to America in the 19th century, they discovered that pumpkins, a local fruit, were way easier to cut. The rest of the world followed this example soon. So even though the jack-o’-lanterns aren’t quite the same anymore, people all over the planet still honor the legend of Stingy Jack. With a hollowed-out pumpkin or simply by getting absolutely wasted with Halloween.