Many people carve a pumpkin into a Halloween jack o’lantern. For most of them, it is a fun part of Halloween that has no meaning beyond the festivities around the holiday. There is, however, an Irish story that goes with the jack o’lantern. It involves a mean man and a turnip.
There was a mean, stingy man named Jack that did nothing but play cruel tricks on anyone he could. When he died, he was turned away from Heaven because of the way he lived his life. One of the tricks he had played was on the Devil himself, and during the trick Jack extracted a promise from the Devil not to take his soul. When Heaven refused him entry, Jack went to Hell. The Devil kept his word and refused to take Jack into Hell.
Jack asked what he could do, wandering in the dark between Heaven and Hell, never a part of either. The Devil tossed him an ember from one of Hell’s coals, which Jack put in a hollowed out turnip. Turnips happened to be one of his favorite foods. Of course, he stole them instead of growing his own. According to the legend, Jack still wanders the world between Heaven and Hell, his way lighted by a turnip lantern.
The Irish people began hollowing out root vegetables and placing candles in them on All Hallow’s Eve to light the way for the souls of the departed and to keep Stingy Jack away. When they got to the new world, root vegetables were not as common. Pumpkins, however, were readily available. They were also a lot easier to carve than a tiny turnip. The tradition was transferred to pumpkins and lives on today. As you carve your pumpkin this year, be thankful we don’t still use turnips.