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The tale of Jack-o'-lantern
Like the festivity of Halloween itself, pumpkin carving is thought to come from Ireland and Scotland, but they used turnips mostly, instead of pumpkins, to carve faces on them. They were said to keep spirits at bay and represent them at the same time during the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Others suggest that these carvings originated on All Saint’s Day, with similar purposes.
The tale behind the pumpkin carvings is more interesting, though. It tells the story of a lazy thief called Jack who manages to trick the Devil in many different ways according to different tales. The most popular says that a group of villagers caught Jack stealing from them, and started to chase him. He was hiding in some place when the Devil showed up just to tell him that his time had come. But then, Jack offered a better deal for the Devil, one that he could not disagree upon. Jack told the Devil to transform into a silver coin, with which he would pay the villagers for the goods stolen. Then, the Devil could disappear and all the villagers would fight over who had stolen the coin and thus all of them would end up going to hell. The Devil agreed to the plan, but when he transformed into a silver coin Jack took it and put it into a sack he had, along with a cross. Jack closed the sack, and the Devil found himself unable to come out of it, as the cross was cancelling his powers.
Jack retained the Devil for a long time, and only let him free when he promised to never reclaim his soul. After Jack died, he could not go to heaven, as he was a thief in life, and he could not go to hell due to the agreement with the Devil. He did not know where to go, and asked the Devil for an answer. The Devil, still mad at Jack for having tricked him, mockingly tossed him an ember from hell that could never burn out, so it would illuminate his path forever. Jack then carved out one of his turnips, put the ember inside and started wandering across the planet looking for a place to rest that he would never find. That is when he became known as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-o’-lantern.
Interesting, isn’t it? It makes for the perfect story to tell your children on your next Halloween party!