Legend of the Jack O’Lantern
Maybe it’s in a window or on the steps of your front porch. Maybe it’s right beside the front door. Mine is in the front yard under the trees. October brings ghoulish carved faces of pumpkins sitting in the darkness with glowing eyes, a nose, and a mouth, scaring away evil spirits, especially the one belonging to Stingy Jack. And who exactly is Stingy Jack, you say? And why is it that pumpkins flash those scary smiles? Well, let me tell you.
The Irish legend creeps back hundreds of years to the books of Irish history that tell the tale of a miserable, old drunk named Jack. Jack liked to play tricks on people. No one was exempt from Jack’s deceit – not family, friends, his mother, not even the Devil himself.
One day, Jack invited the Devil to have a drink. Jack had no intention of paying for his drink, so he coerced the Devil into turning himself into a coin. Rather than paying for the drinks, Stingy Jack decided to keep the money. He put it in his pocket next to a silver cross, thus preventing the Devil from returning to his physical form.
In time, Jack freed the Devil from his unwanted metallic state under the condition that he would not bother him for a year. If Jack should die during that time, he could not claim his soul. The Devil agreed.
A year later, Jack and the Devil crossed paths. Stingy Jack tricked the Devil again. This time, he got the Devil to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit. (Hmmm, it sounds like a spoof on the story in Genesis.) While the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the bark, preventing the Devil from making his descent. Before letting him down, Jack got the Devil to promise not to bother him for ten more years. However, Jack died before ten years passed.
When Jack approached the pearly gates of Heaven, he was met by Peter. The Saint said, “Jack, you’re too mean and too cruel. Your life on earth has been worthless. I cannot allow you to enter Heaven. I am sending you to Hell.”
When he arrived at Hell, the Devil refused Jack’s entry, remembering his promise not to claim his soul. Instead, the Devil sent him into the dark night, throwing Jack a burning ember from the flames of hell. Jack placed the ember into a hollowed-out turnip. You see, he always had a turnip with him, having stolen one. Turnips were his favorite food. From that day onward, Jack roamed the Earth with his lighted turnip.
The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern.” Through the years, it has been shortened to “Jack O’Lantern.”
Citizens of Ireland and Scotland began to create their own version of Jack’s lanterns by carving eerie faces into turnips or potatoes. Large beets were used in England. Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them when they came to North America. Carving pumpkins was an easy transition since the pumpkin was already associated with autumn.
The Biblical Truth and Nothing But . . .
The nonsensical folklore carries with it falsehoods that this writer must address. First, no one is more cunning or deceptive than the Devil. He is the one who would be tricking Jack, not the other way around. “Now the serpent [the Devil] was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1)
Second, the Devil is a liar and can never be expected to keep any promise. “[The Devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Third, any believer who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior is welcomed into Heaven regardless of stature and sin. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
With Halloween 2023 just days away, I hope you enjoyed this bit of Irish folklore. May this blog serve as a reminder that our blessing as Christians in this world ruled by Satan is that we are not ruled by sin, nor do the principles of it bind us. As we become more mature in Christ, we are being changed into the image of Him, resulting in less and less interest in the things of this world. Hallelujah!