Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
Jack O Lantern
Why do we carve pumpkins at Halloween? The origins of Jack O Lantern.
All across the world children and grown ups alike will be carving grotesque faces into pumpkins and putting a light inside, creating ‘Jack O Lanterns’ but how did this tradition came about?
The Jack O Lantern has its roots in Irish folklore but we associate pumpkins and the tradition of Halloween trick and treating with the American culture. The migrating Irish took the legend to the US with them and although the original Jack O Lanterns were carved turnips, the American pumpkin made a much more impressive lantern.
So the story of Jack O Lantern begins.
Jack was an Irish man, the town drunk and a fellow who was as crafty and as devious anyone was likely to meet. One dark and stormy night Jack was out drinking and met with the devil himself. Now Jack was a miserly man and as the two of them shared a drink, Jack decided rather then paying for his drink he would trick the devil. He persuaded the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks they had supped. Quick as a flash, Jack picked up the coin and put it in his pocket next to a silver cross he carried there.
The devil was unable to change back into his original form, held fast by the Christian cross. Jack then did a deal with the devil, he would only release him from his pocket if the devil agreed not to take his soul. The devil agreed and the two went on their way. Jack then convinced the devil to climb a tree to steal the fruit hanging there. The devil climbed the tree and quick as a flash Jack carved the sign of a cross into the trunk, trapping the devil in the trees lofty boughs. Another deal was done, the devil agreed he would leave Jack alone for ten years if Jack would let him down from the tree.
The death of Jack O Lantern.
Not long after Jack and the devil had supped together, Jack died. He presented himself before the pearly gates of heaven but was turned away and told to go to the devil. However Jack had agreed the ten year deal with the devil and the devil kept to it and turned Jack away from the gates of hell.
Jack was now left in limbo. Stuck between the gates of heaven and hell, he was doomed to walk the dark night forever with only a coal to light his way. Jack took the burning coal and placed it inside a hollowed out turnip. He has forever been wandering the dark nights peering through windows with his ‘Jack O Lantern’.
Jack of the Lantern.
We now place our own lanterns in our windows, reflecting back at the sad figure of the ghostly Jack as he wanders in the dark.
Grow your own pumpkins.
Part of the anticipation of the end of October begins in the Spring with the planting of pumpkin seeds. The excitement builds as the seeds push up through the soil with their two helicopter blade leaves horizontal. Dig a deep bed and fill it with moisture retentive compost, these plants will take a lot of watering. The rate of growth can be incredible, we measured one that grew over 20cm a day. The flowers are beautiful and joyful and beloved of bees. The fruits grow at a fantastic rate and when picked will last for months before being made into delicious food or take on the creepy persona of the ‘Jack O Lantern’.