Today is Halloween, the day when children across the country dig the innards out of and carve faces into hapless pumpkins, dress in costume and roam the neighborhood begging for enough candy to rot teeth and cause bellyaches for a full year. I have many fond—and some not so fond—memories of Halloween. Like the year my brother and I dressed up as Christmas packages. Do you know how hard it is to walk to school in a water heater box covered in wrapping paper and adorned with an enormous bow?
The practice of decorating pumpkins, or jack-o-lanterns is said to have originated in an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. Seems Jack convinced the Devil to buy him a drink but didn’t want to pay for it. So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin. Instead of paying for the drink, Jack slipped the coin into his pocket alongside a cross, which kept the devil from turning back. Jack freed him in exchange for a year of freedom.
When the Devil returned in a year, Jack tricked him into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit, then carved a cross into the bark, trapping the dark angel until he promised Jack ten more years of freedom. When Jack died, God didn’t want the trickster in heaven and the Devil had promised not to claim Jack’s soul. According to the legend, the Devil left Jack to roam the countryside with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming ever since. The Irish began to refer to the ghostly wanderer as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack o’ lantern.
Villagers began to carve their own versions of Jack’s lantern into turnips or potatoes and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, where the native pumpkin proved a perfect canvas, and it is now an integral part of Halloween festivities.
So, tell me: do you still carve pumpkins for your front porch on Halloween?