HISTORY OF THE JACK-O-LANTERN
HISTORY OF THE JACK-O-LANTERN
Before it was Halloween, October 31st was the Pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), the official end of summer and the harvest season. Ancient Celts believed that at Samhain, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was extremely thin, allowing the dead to cross over into the world of the living. Sometimes they appeared as apparitions and sometimes in the form of animals, most particularly black cats. The living lit bonfires and dressed in costumes to confuse the spirits and keep them from re-entering the world.
When Christianity came to Ireland and Scotland, it simply co-opted the three day festival of Samhain and folded it into All Hallow’s Eve, (October 31st), All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day. (November 2nd) It was a perfect fit and the original Pagan Samhain blended seamlessly into the new Christian celebration. In most of Christian Europe, the emphasis was and still is on All Saints Day, but in Ireland and Scotland, because of the Celtic past and the legacy of Samhain, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween became the big deal and various local traditions developed.
In Ireland children carved out potatoes or turnips as “Jack-O-Lanterns” and lighted them from the inside with candles. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack” who invited the Devil to have a drink with him and then didn’t want to pay for his drink.
As the story goes, several centuries ago among myriad towns and villages in Ireland, there lived a drunkard known as “Stingy Jack”. Jack was known throughout the land as a deceiver, manipulator and otherwise dreg of society. On a fateful night, the devil overheard the tale of Jack’s evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced (and envious) of the rumors, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his vile reputation.
Typical of Jack, he was drunk and wandering through the countryside at night when he came upon a body on his cobblestone path. The body with an eerie grimace on its face turned out to be Satan. Jack realized somberly this was his end; Satan had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. Jack made a last request: he asked Satan to let him drink ale before he departed to Hades. Finding no reason not to acquiesce the request, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked Satan to pay the tab on the ale, to Satan’s surprise. Jack convinced Satan to metamorphose into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender (impressed upon by Jack’s unyielding nefarious tactics). Shrewdly, Jack stuck the now transmogrified Satan (coin) into his pocket, which also contained a crucifix. The crucifix’s presence kept Satan from escaping his form. This coerced Satan to agree to Jack’s demand: in exchange for Satan’s freedom, he had to spare Jack’s soul for ten years.
Ten years later to the date when Jack originally struck his deal, he found himself once again in Satan’s presence. Jack happened upon Satan in the same setting as before and seemingly accepted it was his time to go to Hades for good. As the Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly Satan once again agreed to this request. As Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Satan, frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by Satan into Hades. Satan agreed and was set free.
Eventually the drinking and unstable lifestyle took its toll on Jack; he died the way he lived. As Jack’s soul prepared to enter Heaven through the gates of St. Peter he was stopped. Jack was told by God that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness and drinking, he was not allowed into Heaven. The dreary Jack went before the Gates of Hades and begged for commission into underworld. Satan, fulfilling his obligation to Jack, could not take his soul. To warn others, he gave Jack an ember, marking him a denizen of the netherworld. From that day on until eternity’s end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside a hollowed turnip (“turnip” actually referring to a large rutabaga) to light his way.
References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for “large melon” which is “pepon.” “Pepon” was changed by the French into “pompon.” The English changed “pompon” to “Pumpion.” Shakespeare referred to the “pumpion” in his Merry Wives of Windsor. American colonists changed “pumpion” into “pumpkin.” The “pumpkin” is referred to in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater and Cinderella.
Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.
It’s a story that came to America with hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants in the mid nineteenth century. In America, pumpkins were cheaper and more readily available than turnips, but carving them and making them in to Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became an American tradition as Halloween was enthusiastically adopted in the New World by people from every possible ethnic background. By the 1880’s it had really caught on and had become part of the tapestry of American holiday traditions. Today, most think of Halloween as an American holiday and are unaware of the ancient old world roots of the carved pumpkins that are a traditional part of the celebration. So now you know why we carve pumpkins at Halloween. It’s all because of the ancient Celts, pagans and Irish descendants who came to America. Pagans today still celebrate Samhain.
THE WORLDS FASTEST PUMPKIN CARVER – STEVE CLARKE
We hope you enjoyed the ‘Pumpkin Carving’ Video, featuring Steve Clarke (above) and use some of Steve’s Techniques in creating the perfect Pumpkin Carving this Halloween! Steve Clarke of Havertown, Pennsylvania is glowing orange and talking “Pumpkin Proud”. He is the world record holder, and owns bragging rights as “The World’s Fastest Pumpkin Carver”.
On December 14, 2000, Steve carved a 27.5 pound pumpkin in a record 1:14.8 minutes, shaving 19 seconds off the old record held by Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, Ohio. He received a certificate from Guinness World Book of Records a few month later.
As told by Steve “I carved the record breaker at Rosemont School of the Holy Child, where I have worked as the sixth grade teacher and also football and track coach for the last 23 years. I also attended elementary school there, and my two daughters attend currently. They served as videographers for the event. My wife Karen serves as sounding board ,and exhibits the patience of Job. Anyone who will put up with a basement full of pumpkins into January (with the occasional rotter)and a house decorated with Christmas Jack O’ Lanterns, deserves at least some of the credit for the record. The school (especially my boss Sister Mary Broderick) has been great about giving me the time to travel and carve, and my students have really enjoyed being part of the whole thing.”
In August, 2000, Steve Clarke wrote to the Guinness Prime Time TV show in August, telling them that he could break the carving record of 1:37, then held by Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, Ohio. It took until December to make all the arrangements and get the folks from Guinness to come witness the event. Steve is a sixth grade teacher there.
Late in the year as it was, Steve was out of pumpkins, but found a local farmer who donated about thirty 25-30 pounders), enough to audition and a few to practice on. For his audition tape, Steve carved three standard faces in 1:00 to 1:30 each, and then did the Mona Lisa in 4:37, just to knock their socks off. About a week later, Guinness. He then scheduled the event for the second week of December, and the rest is now history.