Spooky tradition has its roots in Irish folklore - and in turnips!
NOT that I’m biased or anything but there are so many great things that started life in Ireland – including whiskey, Guinness and Irish music – but you all knew that.
However, in the wake of recent so-called ‘traditional’ celebrations, readers may be surprised to discover that Halloween had its roots in the good old Emerald Isle, with the Irish festival of Samhain or ‘All Hallows Eve’, which then became known as Halloween.
This was a time of year when the veil between this world and the next was at its weakest and spirits roamed the world.
This legend is why people in Ireland began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving grotesque faces into turnips, potatoes and beets, placing them by their homes to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits and travellers. The practice originated from an Irish myth concerning ‘Stingy Jack’, who invited the Devil to have a drink with him.
True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks.
Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.
The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavoury figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell.
He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as ‘Jack of the Lantern’, and then, simply ‘Jack O’ Lantern’.
Immigrants from Ireland brought the Jack O’ Lantern tradition with them when they travelled to the United States.
They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect Jack O’ Lanterns, and were much easier to carve than the turnip seen here from 1850.
‘Stingy Jack’ – also known as the Jack O Lantern – in a carved turnip from 1850
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop