Kid History – The Legend of Stingy Jack

Why do we carve pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns during Halloween?

Did you know that if we were in the olden days, we’d be carving TURNIPS instead of PUMPKINS?!

In fact, over 700 years ago, the Maori people of New Zealand carved gourds into lanterns!  But why do we make Jack O’Lanterns at Halloween?

Well, the Irish legend goes that a man named Stingy Jack tried to trick the devil – some say he tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, then carved a cross in the trunk to trap him there – some say he convinced the Devil to turn into a coin to pay some villagers to steal their souls, only to find himself trapped by a cross in Stingy Jack’s wallet!  In either case, Jack would only free the Devil if he agreed to never take Jack’s soul, and so he did.

Unfortunately, when Stingy Jack finally died, he was not permitted into heaven – and of course the Devil wouldn’t take him! So he was forced to roam the earth, with only a carved turnip lantern to find his way, lit by an ember from Hades, now forever known as Jack of the Lantern, or, Jack O’Lantern.

Some people think that the carved turnips are to ward off evil spirits, and some believe they represent the souls of those who passed.  Some even believe they are used to frighten children on Halloween!

But why do we carve pumpkins instead of turnips?

Well, carving pumpkins is A LOT easier than carving turnips! As the Europeans immigrated to America, they discovered that pumpkins, which are native to America, were larger and MUCH easier to carve, and began to carve pumpkins instead of turnips. And so the “modern” Jack O’Lantern was born!

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