The History of the Jack-o-Lantern

In case you were wondering, Halloween (or “Hallows Eve”… the evening before All Hallows Day… or, All Saints now as it’s more commonly known) is an unofficial Catholic holiday to remember the reality of hell and to focus on how to avoid it (“in inferno nulla est redemptio”).

Jack-o-Lanterns were originally made from turnips. It was the Irish Catholics who spun a tale about a miserly man named Jack (known as “Stingy Jack”). He was a drunk, and he was a trickster who loved to make mischief on even his family and friends. One day Jack tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree and then carved Crosses into the trunk of the tree so the devil couldn’t get down. Jack bargained with the evil one, saying he would only remove the Crosses if the devil promised not to take his soul to hell. The devil agreed and Jack let him down. When Jack died, after so many years of vice, he appeared before the Pearly Gates of Heaven but was told by Saint Peter that he was too miserable a creature to see the face of Almighty God. But neither could the devil take his soul to hell, so Jack was doomed to wander the darkness on earth. Jack asked for something to at least light the way, and so the devil threw Jack an ember from the burning pits which Jack placed into a hollowed out turnip and carried with him. He became known as Jack of the Lantern (Jack-o-Lantern). Thus, on Hallows Eve (Halloween), the Irish would dress up in scary costumes to chase away evil spirits, and put out carved turnip lanterns to keep Stingy Jack away. When the Irish immigrated to America where turnips were not readily available, they used pumpkins instead.