The Legend of the Jack-o-Lantern

Gina Wiste ‘19, Features Section Editor

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There once lived a farmer named Jack, who was a very lazy man. He never plowed his fields or planted his grains, and so his farm lay in near-ruins. His wife and his children went to bed hungry because there was never any money from the harvest and no food to eat.

One day, the Devil was looking for souls to take. He happened upon Jack’s home, and, seeing the destitution of Jack’s life, thought that he’d be an easy target; with the right bargain, Jack’s soul would be his. The Devil knocked on the door, and, when Jack answered, the Devil said, “I’ll make you a rich man, Jack. You’ll never have to worry about toiling in the fields ever again, but your family’s bellies will always be full, and you’ll never want for anything. All you have to do is give me your soul.”

Jack was scared and skeptical of this request. To buy himself time to answer, he said, “Let me think about your offer.”

“Why don’t we take a walk through the fields while you think?” the Devil suggested, and Jack agreed.

The two of them walked through the fields for some time, beyond Jack’s property and into a forest of trees. He looked at their strong, sturdy trunks and branches and was reminded of all the time he had spent climbing them in his youth. Suddenly, he had an idea.

“It’s a nice autumn day,” Jack said, and the Devil nodded his agreement. Jack went on.

“Autumn days are good for climbing trees. I used to spend all of my time climbing about.” He patted one of the trunks.

“That’s never been how I spent my autumn days,” the Devil said, ready to move on, but Jack stopped him.

“I bet you couldn’t climb this tree even if you wanted to.”

The Devil, unwilling to look foolish in front of this man, accepted the challenge and began to climb the tree. It was slow going, as he wasn’t used to doing such things, but the Devil kept his climbing. Finally, when he reached the top, the Devil cried out proudly.
“It seems you’re wrong, Jack! I can climb trees just as well as any man!”

Jack smirked at him from below. “Alright. Now let’s see you get down.”

The Devil looked down and gasped in horror. In the middle of the trunk, Jack had carved a huge cross right in his path while the Devil had been too occupied to notice. The Devil was stuck; he couldn’t cross a mark of God.

“I’ll scratch out the cross,” Jack called out to him, “if you promise to leave me and my family alone for the rest of our lives.”

The Devil, unhappy that he had been fooled, gave Jack his word nonetheless, and so Jack scratched the cross out from the tree. Once the Devil had gotten down, he and Jack parted ways. The Devil kept to their bargin, and Jack lived the rest of his life without ever seeing the creature again.

Then one day, Jack died. His spirit tried to reach heaven, but God was upset with him for having consulted with the Devil during his life and so wouldn’t let Jack in. Then his spirit tried to go to Hell, but the Devil was still angry that Jack had outsmarted him so Hell too turned Jack away.

“Where am I to go?” Jack lamented. A spirit saw him and took pity on him and gave him a lighted piece of coal from the spirit world that would never go out. Jack took the lighted coal and put it in a hollowed out turnip, making himself a lantern so he could wander through the dark world he could never truly be a part of again. To this day, his spirit can be seen wandering aimlessly through the bogs and roads, carrying his turnip lantern.

The Irish people called his spirit Jack of the Lantern, which over time was shortened to Jack O’ Lantern. To scare him away from knocking at their doors in search of a place to stay, people carved scary faces on turnip lanterns and put them in their windows. When settlers came to America, they took this tale and tradition with them, but found it easier to carve faces into pumpkins instead.

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