Sunday, October 14, 2007

Halloween Legends

Halloween is my favorite holiday. There is no end to the imagination and creativity shown by its celebrants. I love reading about the origins of holiday traditions. I think we can enjoy them more when we know just why we do certain activities rather than just doing them automatically. Here are a couple of traditions followed by many, but understood by few:

Jack O' Lanterns
The jack o' lantern is synonymous with Halloween. As the legend goes, an Irishman named Jack and known for his stinginess and drunken habits was bellying up to the bar on All Soul's Eve. The Devil happened to be there and Jack offered his soul for the price of a drink. Jack talked the Devil into transforming himself into a sixpence in order to pay for the drink, saying that the Devil could transform back after the tab was paid and not have to actually pay for the drink. The Devil, being who he was, liked this idea of getting a soul and not really paying for it anyway so he agreed.
No sooner had he transformed, than Jack scooped up the sixpence and placed it in a pouch with a cross on it. The Devil could not transform back into himself, so was forced to make a bargain with Jack. Jack asked for one more year before he lost his soul and the Devil agreed.
One year later, Jack was still engaged in his drunken miserly habits. The Devil appeared and Jack agreed to go with him. Jack stopped under an apple tree and asked the Devil is he would retrieve an apple from the tree for him. The Devil climbed the tree, thinking this would only take a minute. Jack pulled a knife from his pocket, carved a cross in the tree and again the Devil was trapped. Jack again was given a reprieve.
Soon after, Jack died of natural causes. He was refused entrance into heaven because of the life he had led. He went into Hell, but the Devil, for once deciding to honor a bargain, turned him away as well. Jack asked, "Where am I to go?"
The Devil told him to go back where he came from. "How will I see?" asked Jack. The Devil tossed him a coal from the fire pits and Jack placed it into a turnip in order to light his way.
So, Jack was forced to wander through the land carrying his lit turnip. His light can be seen over the marshes of Ireland. The closer one comes to the light, the farther away it moves.
Irish people over the years would place lights inside carved turnips and potatoes to scare away ghosts. They would also do this so that if Jack needed a light, he would take it and leave them alone.
This custom continued when the Irish people migrated to America. They found the pumpkins larger and much easier to carve, so the transition to our modern-day jack o' lanterns, or "Jack's Lanterns" came into being.
Share this legend with anyone with an interest in Halloween. I'll continue my research and 'Happy Haunting.'

1 comment:

Janelle said...

Interesting background info, Kathy! I never knew the origin of Jack's lantern.