Saturday, October 04, 2003

You Don't Know Jack

"I was just thinking about the life of a pumpkin. Grow up in the sun, happily entwined with others, and then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips your guts out." So says Buffy the vampire slayer.

Why do we cut open pumpkins, carve little faces on them, and then insert candles for the final touch before using them to decorate our homes on Halloween?

It turns out, that this all began a long time ago in Ireland. The Irish have a story about a man named, “Stingy Jack”.

Jack was a very bad man. He stole things from others, and was about as cheap as they come. He’d love to wander through yards looking for things he could steal, and taking food from other people’s gardens. He loved to eat turnips, and stole these every chance he could get.

One day, some say on All Hallows Eve, Jack was in a tavern drinking when the devil appeared because it was Jack’s time to go.

The devil is not very bright in this story, so Jack manages to convince the devil to let him have one more drink. Being the stingy man that he was, Jack also wanted the devil to pay for the drink. The devil pointed out that he had no money.

Jack reminded the devil that he could change into anything, and talks the devil into turning himself into a coin to pay for the drink. When the devil changed into a coin, stingy Jack grabbed the coin and tossed it quickly into his coin pouch. It turns out that there was also a cross in his pouch, which prevented the devil from changing back into himself.

After a long time screaming and cussing at Jack, the devil was finally worn out and asked Jack what he wanted. Jack told the devil he had to leave him alone for a year. The devil agreed, and as soon as Jack opened his pouch the devil vanished in a puff of angry smoke.

One year later, while Jack was traveling down a road, the devil pops into view. He reminds Jack that a year has passed, and he’s come to collect his soul. Jack agrees, but once again talks the devil into something. He asks the devil if he would go up a tree and pick an apple for him.

While the devil is up the tree, Jack pulls out his pocket knife and quickly carves a cross into the tree trunk. The devil is trapped in the tree and once again strikes a bargain with Jack. This time, Jack wants the devil to leave him alone for 10 years, and to never take his soul.

The devil concedes, and Jack goes on his way. Nobody knows how the devil finally got out of that tree. Perhaps it’s a story for another time.

As fate would have it, Jack never makes it for ten more years and drops dead.

When Jack shows up at the pearly gates, would you believe they wouldn’t let him in? Instead they sent him straight to hell…

When Jack arrived at the gates to hell, the devil took one look at him and reminded Jack that he had made him promise to never take his soul. So Jack was stuck in limbo with no place to go. As he started out, it became very dark and Jack pleaded with the devil for a light.

The devil, apparently not all bad, tosses Jack an eternally burning hot ember. Jack could not carry this hot spark, so he hollowed out one of his turnips, and cut some holes in the sides so that he could use it as a lantern. This is how he became known as Jack of the Lantern. Over the years, the term was shortened to Jack ‘O Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland people would cut open turnips and potatoes and carve scary faces in them the same way Jack did, and placed candles in them to scare off Jack and other bad spirits. The English use large beets to do the same. When immigrants came to the United States they found less turnips, but found these great large pumpkins which were softer and easier to carve. Thus, the pumpkin became one of the main symbols for Halloween the world over.

So now, you do know Jack!

Stingy, Jack O’ Lantern.

No comments:

Post a Comment