Creating and displaying Jack-O-Lanterns during the Halloween season is a tradition that has been passed down for centuries in nations all over the world. Children are especially participatory in this holiday ritual; In the United States, most families make a day-long outing of searching for the perfect pumpkin before helping their children carve out their nightmarish imaginings into the vegetable. In many small towns, a Jack O’Lantern, or the depiction of one, is used to signify houses which are participating in another popular Halloween tradition: Handing out candy. Before European immigrants who settled in America discovered the pumpkin, native to their new country, was perfect for this tradition various other vegetables were carved to hold candles; In England, beets were hollowed out and carved with macabre expressions. In Ireland, where the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern originated, large turnips and potatoes were first used. While this tradition is reserved mostly for the young and young at heart, the origins are much more sinister than one could imagine. Irish legends tell the tale of a man known as “Stingy Jack”, for whom Jack O’Lanterns are named. Jack was well-known in his village for being a manipulative, deceitful drunk; In fact, he was such an abhorred human that tales of him told by the townspeople were impressive enough to summon the Devil, who was unconvinced of the man’s evilness. While drunkenly wandering the town one evening, Jack came upon a dead body lying on the cobblestone path. As he approached, Jack noticed the face was distorted in a demonic grimace and discovered this “dead body” to be the Devil himself. Convinced Satan had finally come to collect his rotten soul, Stingy Jack requested the Devil join him in a final drink before dragging him into Hell. The Devil obliged, but after finishing off a round, Stingy Jack did not have money to pay, as his nickname would suggest. Jack asked that the Devi transform himself into a silver coin which he would use to pay the tab. The Devil was so impressed by Jack’s display of manipulative cleverness that he once again granted his request, and transformed into a coin. But Jack did not pay as he had promised; He instead slipped the coin which the Devil had transformed into inside a pocket, containing a crucifix. The cross in Jack’s pocket prohibited the Devil from turning back into his true form. Jack agreed to let Satan go only if he agreed to leave Jack alone for a year and to never claim his soul. Eventually, Satan agreed and was set free. One year later, the Devil paid a second visit to Stingy Jack who was once again, roaming the streets of his village in a drunken stupor. Stingy Jack believed the Devil had finally returned to collect his soul, despite their deal made one year earlier. He begged for an apple hanging high in a nearby tree before being taken into Hell, again manipulating the Devil to granting his request. Satan climbed the tree to retrieve the apple; Meanwhile, Stingy Jack was busy carving a large crucifix into the base of the tree so that he would be unable to come back down. Jack negotiated another ten years in which he would not be visited by the Devil and after he agreed to the conditions, allowed Satan to come out of the tree. Of course, Stingy Jack did eventually die. When Jack arrived at the Gates of Heaven he was turned away for his deceitful and manipulative nature in life. He met with the Devil one last time to ask to be allowed into Hell. This time, the Devil did not give into his wishes as he was still butt-hurt over being tricked by this man before. In a final gesture of good will, Satan gave Jack a burning coal straight from the fires of Hell to light his way and sent him off to eternally wander through the night, stuck between this word and the next. The Irish began referring to the soul of Stingy Jack, sometimes seen carrying a carved-out turnip containing the coal given to him by the Devil as “Jack of the Lantern”, eventually shortening it to, “Jack O’Lantern”. The Irish began creating lanterns for themselves with sinister faces, similar to the one Jack must have seen on the Devil when they first met. The lanterns would come to be displayed on All Hallows Eve to ward off Jack of the Lantern and other evil spirits wandering the earth. Make sure to carve your Jack O’Lantern every Halloween, if you don’t, you may be visited by spirits so evil, not even the Devil will claim them.
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