Above and Beyond: Legends of Jack O’Lanterns

Above and Beyond: Legends of Jack O’Lanterns October 28, 2018

Have you heard of the legends of the Halloween Jack O’Lanterns? The story is about a drunkard named Stingy Jack, Satan, a Jack O’Lantern made from a turnip, and a coin that saved a sinner’s soul which caught the attention of God.

halloween-1486549__180 PeteLinforth free Pixabay no attribution required


The legends all began one dark night when a drunk man came upon a sly Devil who pretended to be dead. 

The setting is Halloween, the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows’ Day also known as All Saints’ or Hallowmas, which is on 1 November.  All Souls’ Day is on 2 November. When you combine the names of these two holidays you get the holiday on 31 October named All Hallows’ Eve which means the evening before All Hallows’ Day, just as Christmas Eve is the evening before Christmas day.

The legends of Jack O’Lanterns began long before Trick-Or-Treat in America. 

The tradition of carving Jack O’Lanterns was brought to America by the Irish.  But, the original tradition in Ireland of the Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin. It was a turnip, making the first Halloween Lanterns Turnip O’Lanterns.

Ancient Celtic cultures carved turnips on All Hallow’s Eve because the Irish did not grow pumpkins.

In Ireland, there could be no Charlie Brown or Linus from Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts sitting in the pumpkin patch on Halloween waiting for the fabled   Great Pumpkin to appear and fly around bringing toys to sincere and believing children on Halloween evening.

It was a very important reason to place an ember inside a carved turnip. According to the legends it wards off evil spirits.

As the story goes, many centuries ago there lived an Irish village-drunk known as “Stingy Jack” because he always tricked others into paying his bar-bill for him. He was also known throughout the Celtic lands as such a sly deceiver, and master manipulator that he could trick the devil out of Hell, even if he were falling-down drunk.

One fateful evening, while sitting in a tavern pub, Satan overheard tales of Jack’s stingy deeds and boasting. Challenged by the rumors, the devil decided to find out if Jack could live up to his vile reputation and stay out of Hell.

On an especially dark night, he was staggering home drunk through the countryside when he found a body on his cobblestone path. An eerie grimace was frozen on its face. When Jack realized it was Satan playing dead it scared him sober. He realized this was his end and that Satan had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. Jack made a last request.

“Please Satan,” Stingy Jack begged, “Let me drink one more pint of ale before I must go to Hell.”

The devil thought about the request and could find no reason not to agree because Satan loved drunkards and bars. So, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack surprised Satan by asking him to pay the bar tab by changing into a silver coin to pay the bartender. Then Jack said, “After the Bartender takes the payment you can change back into Satan, and we will have cheated the bartender.”

Some of the legends may differ a bit in the telling of the story but they all agree that Satan was impressed by Jack’s wicked tactics and changed into a coin. Jack snatched the devil-coin off the table and put it into his pocket, which unbeknown to Satan also contained a crucifix which kept Satan from escaping his coin-form. When Satan demanded to be set free, drunk Jack bargained with him.

“In exchange for your freedom, you must spare my soul for ten years.” Satan agreed and left.

Ten years later to the date when Jack originally struck his deal, Satan returned to claim Jack’s soul. Again, Jack was staggering home and happened upon Satan in the same setting as before but this time  seemingly accepted it was his time to go to Hades for good. As Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could first have one last apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly, Satan once again agreed to this request. When Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, Satan demanded his release. Just as Jack had done before, he bartered with the Devil. “I will make you stay forever in that apple tree unless you agree that my soul will never be put in Hades.” Satan agreed and was set free from the apple tree.

Jack’s drinking eventually took its toll on his body, and he died.

Stingy Jack’s soul prepared to enter Heaven through the Pearly Gates of St. Peter, but he was stopped. God told him that He had seen all that had happened during Jack’s life and  that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness and drinking, he was not allowed to enter Heaven. Not one to easily be discouraged, Jack then went down to the Gates of Hell and, pretending to be remorseful, asked for admission.  But, due to his promise to Jack, Satan could not take Jack’s soul. So, Jack was also turned away from the Gates of Hell.

To warn others, Satan gave Jack an ember, marking him as an occupant of the Netherworld between Heaven and Hell.  

From that day forward until eternity’s end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside a hollowed-out turnip to light his way.

The two pronged moral of the story is that some people are just too smart for their own good.

And, don’t barter with the Devil because God is always listening, and you may find yourself caught twixt-and-between Heaven and Hell.

Long before pumpkin carving became popular, Celtic people in Ireland were carving turnips and lighting them with embers, to ward off evil spirits wandering the earth on All Hallows’ Eve.

Pumpkins replaced Turnips in America because pumpkins are softer on the inside making them much easier to carve.


If  you wish to be a true Halloween Traditionalists, here is how to carve a turnip. 

  1. Pick a large turnip. The stranger the shape the better the Jack Jack O’Lantern.
  2. Cut off the top leaves and stems.
  3. Cut a slice off the bottom of the turnip to provide a flat bottom to discourage rolling.
  4. Using a sharp knife, slice off the top of the turnip to form the lid.
  5. Using a small paring knife carve out the center.
  6. Use the paring knife to cut a face in the turnip.
  7. Light the turnip using a small LED tealight

TIP: If you prefer to use a candle leave the top off or the lid will begin to cook…literally.

Place the carved turnip on your doorstep or in a window to keep your house safe from wandering spirits on All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween like Stingy Jack.


About the Author: Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is a VIDEO Podcaster, a three-time Breast Cancer Survivor, seen on  Dr. Oz, DOCTORS, NBC, & CBS. Her Divine Dreams diagnose her illness. Kat was a Research Participant for Duke University’s Dr. Larry Burk‘s Breast Cancer Dream Research Program. They co-wrote, Dreams That Can Save Your Life. She is a Syndicated Columnist, TV Producer/Host and award-winning Author/Lecturer who promotes patient advocacy and connecting with Divine Spiritual-guidance through Dreams. “Don’t tell God how big your problems are. Tell your Photo Credit: problems how big your God is.” Learn more @  www.KathleenOKeefeKanavos.com



Photo Credits:

halloween-1486549__180 PeteLinforth free Pixabay no attribution required

Gellinger fantasy-2293074_1280 Pixabay CC0 Public Domain FREE for commercial use No attribution require





Research Links:

Wikipedia Halloween  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween

Wikipedia- Charlie Brown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_van_Pelt

Wikipedia The Great Pumpkin – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pumpkin

jack O’ Lantern” Not Too Far From Traditional Catholic … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.traditionalcatholicpriest.com/2014/10/30/jack-o-lantern-not-too-far-f

Jack O’Laterns http://www.pumpkinnook.com/facts/jack.htm

Stingy Jack | Public Domain Super Heroes | Fandom Powered .., http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Stingy_Jack

How to carve Turnips http://www.pumpkinnook.com/halloween/carvingturnips.htm

Wikipedia Stingy Jack https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingy_Jack



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