The Story Of The Jack O’Lanterns And Halloween

Have you heard of the Halloween Story of Stingy-Jack the drunkard, Satan, the Jack O’Lantern and the coin that saved a sinner’s soul? It all began one dark night with a drunk man and a sly Devil who was pretending to be dead. The setting is Halloween, the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows’ Day also known as All Saints’ or Hallowmas, which is on 1 November.  All Souls’ Day is on 2 November. When you combine the names of these two holidays you get the holiday on 31 October named All Hallows’ Eve which means the evening before All Hallows’ Day, just as Christmas Eve is the evening before Christmas day.

This is the story of Jack O’Lanterns which began long before Trick-Or-Treat in America.  

The tradition of carving Jack O’Lanterns was brought to America by the Irish.  But, the original tradition in Ireland of the Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin. It was a turnip, making the first Halloween Lanterns Turnip O’Lanterns.

Ancient Celtic cultures carved turnips on All Hallow’s Eve because the Irish did not grow pumpkins.

In Ireland, there could be no Charlie Brown or Linus from Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts sitting in the pumpkin patch on Halloween waiting for the fabled   Great Pumpkin to appear and fly around bringing toys to sincere and believing children on Halloween evening.

It was a very important reason to place an ember inside a carved turnip. It wards off evil spirits.

As the story goes, many centuries ago there lived an Irish village-drunk known as “Stingy Jack” because he always tricked others into paying his bar-bill for him. He was also known throughout the Celtic lands as such a sly deceiver, and master manipulator that he could trick the devil out of Hell, even if he were falling-down drunk. One fateful evening, while sitting in a tavern pub, Satan overheard tales of Jack’s stingy deeds and boasting. Challenged by the rumors, the devil decided to find out if Jack could live up to his vile reputation and stay out of Hell. On an especially dark night, he was staggering home drunk through the countryside when he found a body on his cobblestone path. An eerie grimace was frozen on its face. When Jack realized it was Satan playing dead it scared him sober. He realized this was his end and that Satan had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. Jack made a last request.

“Please Satan,” Stingy Jack begged, “Let me drink one more pint of ale before I must go to Hell.”

The Devil thought about the request and could find no reason not to agree because Satan loved drunkards and bars. So, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack surprised Satan by asking him to pay the bar tab by changing into a silver coin to pay the bartender. Then Jack said, “After the Bartender takes the payment you can change back into Satan, and we will have cheated the bartender.” Satan was impressed by Jack’s wicked tactics and changed into a coin. Jack snatched the Satan-coin off the table and put it into his pocket, which unbeknown to Satan also contained a crucifix which kept Satan from escaping his coin-form. When Satan demanded to be set free, drunk Jack bargained with him. “In exchange for your freedom, you must spare my soul for ten years.” Satan agreed and left.

Ten years later to the date when Jack originally struck his deal, Satan returned to claim Jack’s soul. Again, Jack was staggering home and happened upon Satan in the same setting as before but this time  seemingly accepted it was his time to go to Hades for good. As Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could first have one last apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly, Satan once again agreed to this request. When Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, Satan demanded his release. Just as Jack had done before, he bartered with the Devil. “I will make you stay forever in that apple tree unless you agree that my soul will never be put in Hades.” Satan agreed and was set free from the apple tree.

Jack’s drinking eventually took its toll on his body, and he died.  Stingy Jack’s soul prepared to enter Heaven through the Pearly Gates of St. Peter, but he was stopped. God told him that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness and drinking, he was not allowed to enter Heaven. Not one to easily be discouraged, Jack then went down to the Gates of Hell and, pretending to be remorseful, asked for admission.  But, due to his promise to Jack, Satan could not take Jack’s soul. Jack was also turned away from the Gates of Hell.

To warn others, Satan gave Jack an ember, marking him as an occupant of the Netherworld between Heaven and Hell.  

From that day on until eternity’s end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside a hollowed turnip to light his way. In conclusion; the moral of this story is some people are just too smart for their own good. Don’t mess with the Devil because God is always watching and you may find yourself caught “twixt and between.” Long before pumpkin carving became popular, Celtic people in Ireland were carving turnips and lighting them with embers, to ward off evil spirits like Stingy Jack.

For those of you who want to be Halloween Traditionalists, here is how to carve a turnip: 

  1. Pick a large turnip.
  2. Cut off the top leaves and stems.
  3. Cut a slice off the bottom of the turnip to provide a flat bottom to discourage rolling.
  4. Using a sharp knife, slice off the top of the turnip to form the lid.
  5. Using a small paring knife carve out the center.
  6. Use the paring knife to cut a face in the turnip.
  7. Light the turnip using a small LED tealight
  8. TIP: If you prefer to use a candle leave the top off or the lid will begin to cook…literally.

Place the carved turnip on your doorstep, or in a window to keep your house safe from evil spirits on Halloween.

Research Links:

Wikipedia Halloween  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween

Wikipedia- Charlie Brown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_van_Pelt

Wikipedia The Great Pumpkin – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pumpkin

jack O’ Lantern” Not Too Far From Traditional Catholic … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.traditionalcatholicpriest.com/2014/10/30/jack-o-lantern-not-too-far-f

Jack O’Laterns http://www.pumpkinnook.com/facts/jack.htm

Stingy Jack | Public Domain Super Heroes | Fandom Powered .., http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Stingy_Jack

How to carve Turnips http://www.pumpkinnook.com/halloween/carvingturnips.htm

Wikipedia Stingy Jack

Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kat O'Keefe-Kanavoshttp://kathleenokeefekanavos.com/
Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is the co-author of Dreams That Can Save Your Life and three-time cancer survivor. Her dreams diagnosed her illness as seen on Dr. Oz, Doctors, NBC News, American Express Open, in Newspapers and magazines. She’s a Contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, TV/Radio Host/Producer- Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod™, Kat Kanavos Show, Internationally Syndicated Columnist in BIZCATALYST 360°, Dream Columnist in New Earth Chronicles, and Positive Tribe Magazine, Keynote Speaker, Performance Coach who taught Special Ed & Psychology @US, and Lecturer who promotes patient advocacy and Spiritual guidance. Kat is a contributing author to the inspiring book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change.
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Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

Absolutely loved this article. As for my Catholic Faith who prays for souls waiting for heaven, I will wonder into a cemetery November 1, 2, and pray prayers on my rosary for the souls of the faithful departed.

Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos

Lynn, thank you for your comment. What a wonderful gesture of devotion and love, to wander into a cemetery on November 1 & 2 and pray for the souls of the departed. Happy Halloween.

Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

I meant wander not wonder, sometimes typing so fast and my brain going faster than thoughts this happens. Thank you for your reply and Happy Hallows!

Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos

Lynn, I completely understand! My nails are too long for typing. But I cannot give them up so it is amazing how I can think one thing and type another that totally throws the comment into chaos.

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