Halloween and the Jack o’lantern
The festival of Halloween has been enjoying a revival in the UK in recent years.
There have always been people who have marked the date, usually through costume parties and trick or treating, but it is beginning to become a much bigger and more widely celebrated festival. The shops are filled with party costumes, decorations, sweets for trick or treating and of course, pumpkins for carving.
At this time of year Loxdale students dress up in all sorts of costumes to enjoy the annual Halloween party at our school which is lots of fun!
A lot of British people will grumble that Halloween is “an American thing” and that we are suffering yet more commercialisation of a festival which was more widely celebrated until now across the pond. However, this is not quite the case as “most of the activities associated with this time of year are rooted in European folklore and tradition”. (English Heritage, 2015)
Lit-up pumpkins with spooky faces carved into them are a familiar sight adorning the dark Halloween night. These ‘Jack o’lanterns’ are steeped in history and are in fact linked to an Irish folk tale about a man named Jack.
The tale tells of Jack, a man with a nasty temper who liked a drink or two, meeting the Devil on All Hallows Eve in a local pub. Jack offered his soul to the Devil in exchange for one last drink. The Devil obliged and turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender. Jack placed the sixpence in his pocket next to a silver cross which trapped trapped the Devil. Jack refused to release the Devil until he promised not to take his soul for another ten years. The Devil agreed to this deal.
Ten years later the Devil tried once again to claim Jack’s soul. Jack played another trick on the Devil this time trapping him up an apple tree. To secure his release the Devil agreed not to take Jack’s soul when he died.
When he eventually died, Jack was refused entry to Heaven as he had led a despicable and sinful life, so he decided to visit Hell to see what the Devil would offer him. The Devil refused him entry as he had made a promise not to take his soul so Jack was stuck; dead but unable to enter either Heaven or Hell. The Devil told Jack that he must go back to where he came from. Before he left, the Devil gave Jack an ember from the fires of Hell which he put inside a carved-out turnip (his favourite food) to light his way back to earth. Jack was doomed to roam the earth for all eternity with only his turnip lantern to light his path.
Traditionally Jack o’lanterns were carved from turnips and other root vegetables and placed in doorways on Halloween to ward off Jack and other evil spirits. The carving of pumpkins was started in America in the 19th century. People found that it was easier to carve a face into a pumpkin rather than traditional turnip, which was much harder and smaller, and this has become the favoured vessel for today!
So, if you would like to re-visit the real roots of the Halloween Jack o’lantern this year, grab yourself a turnip, a sharp knife and a candle and give it a go!
English Heritage (2015) A brief history of Halloween [online] available at http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/history-of-halloween [accessed 26/10/2016]
The Legend of Stingy Jack [online] available at http://www.novareinna.com/festive/jack.html [accessed 26/10/2016]