With the onset of fall, it seems that most people can only think of one thing: Halloween is coming. The moment October starts, we all get into the Halloween spirit and start thinking about what costume we’re going to wear, what horror movies we’ll binge-watch, what treats we’re going to serve at our Halloween party, and of course what kind of decorations we’re going to place in our homes.
One of the decorations that we all find in all supermarkets, decoration places, and even on the Internet, is the iconic pumpkin-shaped lamps with orange bulbs inside, which we all know as Jack-o’-lantern. However, more than a cute or cool decoration, these lamps have a spooky origin.
The Origin of Jack-O’-Lantern
The tradition began in Western Europe, specifically in the Celtic countries of Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, and part of France. The idea of decorating the pumpkin, which is a seasonal fruit, and also putting candles in it to form lanterns has its origin centuries ago.
The Celts celebrated, instead of Halloween, the festival Samhain, which took place at the end of summer, when the barrier between humans and spirits supposedly fell. In addition to this activity, they carried out more festivities, which are now considered pagan, such as the prediction of the future, acts of magic, and offerings illuminated with lamps made with pumpkins to ward off evil spirits.
However, when Christianity arrived in their region, some of their celebrations were modified, and the main one was to turn Samhain into Halloween. According to the Bible, there were characters representing good and evil, these became the main inspiration to give these lamps meaning to the new syncretized tradition. However, the terrifying story of Jack-o’-lantern remained around the festivity.
The Story of Stingy Jack
According to legend, an Irishman who was known to be a liar met the Devil, whom he invited for a drink. Because he was a stingy man he asked the Devil to turn himself into a silver coin so he could pay for his drinks. However, Jack took the coin and put it inside his purse, making it impossible for the Devil to return to his original form.
After some time, Jack negotiated with the Devil; the latter swore to him that he would take his soul. All his life he dedicated himself to performing acts of bad faith, so when he passed, he was not allowed to enter paradise, but neither hell, since the Devil was willing to fulfill his promise. So, Jack was left wandering between both worlds, and the face of the pumpkin is supposedly his own; observing how life goes by, but not being able to be a part of it.
Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva