Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Jack-O-Lantern

It's not often I win anything. In fact, I've only won a college paper writing contest three years ago.  I think this win might even be more exciting.  I entered a contest for pumpkin carving at a tattoo studio run by the man that did most of my work.  I won a $25 gift certificate with the pumpkin showed above.

Jack-O-Lanterns have a neat history.  In Ireland and England people often carved lanterns from vegetables.  Turnips were the predecessors of the pumpkin.  They weren't officially called "Jack-o-lanterns" until the early 19th century and "officially" linked to Halloween in the mid 19th century.  The 19th century being the time when most of the Halloween customs we practice were originated.  Pumpkins and lanterns were always considered a part of the Autumn tradition since pre-Christian days due to the seasonal time in which they were harvested.  American author John Greenleaf Whittier wrote the following poem:

The Pumpkin (1850)
Oh!--fruit loved of boyhood! --the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces were carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

The original folklore story of the Jack-O-Lantern is Irish in origin.  Stingy Jack was a lazy, miserable drunk man who spent his days about town playing tricks on everyone...including the devil.  One day Jack tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree.  While in the tree Jack quickly placed a cross at the trunk and prevented him from climbing down.  Jack let the devil down once he promised Jack he would not ever take his soul.  Many years later when Jack died he went to the Pearly Gates.  St. Peter told him he had been far too bad to let into Heaven.  Jack went down into Hell but the devil kept his promise and refused to let him in because he couldn't take his soul.  Jack was terrified.  When told to leave Hell Jack noticed how dark it was. He asked the devil if there was any way to get a light to light his way back to earth.  The devil kicked him an ember from one of the fires. The ember was said to never go out.  Jack hollowed out a turnip, placed the ember inside.  He still wanders the earth today with no resting place using his lantern to light the way. From then on he was known as Jack of the Lantern.

It is said that when the Irish came to America they discovered that pumpkins were far easier to carve than potatoes or turnips and hence the Jack-O-Lantern of modern day was born.

Just take a golden pumpkin
 Of quite the largest size,
Cut all 'round the stem, just so,
 Scrape out the inside below,
And cut two holes for eyes.
 And now fix a nose beneath,
 And such a great big mouth with teeth,
 And you've a jack-o'-lantern!

Then fix a tallow candle,
Just big enough to light,
 And when it flickers, see him blink,
 And when it flares up, see him wink
 And smile so broad and bright.
 This is the jolliest sort of a fellow,
With cheery face so round and yellow,
 This funny jack-o'-lantern.


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