The Irish Pumpkin

The most iconic image for this time of year is the glowing jack o’lantern. But where did this tradition come from? Carving pumpkins came to America by way of Irish immigrants. Perhaps this is common knowledge for all the Irish folks here in Rockaway but it was news to me.

My friend sent me an article from that I found so interesting. It’s about the origins of pumpkin carving. And so, I also learned about the legend of “Stingy Jack.” The story goes:

“The practice of making jack-o’-lanterns originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.

Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern.”

I find folklore fascinating. Storytelling by word of mouth from family to community, to towns and beyond creates culture, which makes different societies rich and unique.

Two hilarious take-aways from this tale: the first, instead of a pumpkin, the canvas is a turnup! It seems it would be more difficult to carve, as a turnup is much harder than a pumpkin. Secondly, the whole story revolves around trying to avoid a bar tab – fitting.

To further tie Ireland in, jack o’lantern are associated with Halloween because the holiday is based on the Celtic festival Samhain, which is an ancient celebration in Britain and Ireland that marked the beginning of their new year. It is more commonly known as the pagan holiday  “The Day of the Dead.”

I thought it would be fun to share this tale with you as many will be carving pumpkins this weekend. Tell this Irish myth to your children when you’re creating your jack o’lanterns! Have a safe and Happy Halloween!


Sundance Mulvanerty getting into the Halloween spirit. His mother, Jodi, shared the tale of “Stingy Jack” with him. Sunny was inspired by the story and carved a Shamrock into his pumpkin

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