Do you know the story of “Jack o’ the Lantern”?

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We all know what a jack’o’lantern is.  But do you know why it is called that?  Do you know the story of Jack?

It even has a Christian message. Try reading it out loud – it’s more fun:

The Tale of Jack o’ the Lantern

Jack, the Irish say, grew up in a simple village where he earned a reputation for cleverness as well as laziness. He applied his fine intelligence to wiggling out of any work that was asked of him, preferring to lie under a solitary oak endlessly whittling. In order to earn money to spend at the local pub, he looked for an “easy shilling” from gambling, a pastime at which he excelled. In his whole life he never made a single enemy, never made a single friend and never performed a selfless act for anyone.

One Halloween, as it happened, the time came for him to die. When the devil arrived to take his soul, Jack was lazily drinking at the pub and asked permission to finish his ale. The devil agreed, and Jack thought fast. “If you really have any power,” he said slyly, “you could transform yourself into a shilling.”

The devil snorted at such child’s play and instantly changed himself into a shilling. Jack grabbed the coin. He held it tight in his hand, which bore a cross-shaped scar. The power of the cross kept the devil imprisoned there, for everyone knows the devil is powerless when faced with the cross. Jack would not let the devil free until he granted him another year of life. Jack figured that would be plenty of time to repent. The devil left Jack at the pub.

The year rolled around to the next Halloween, but Jack never got around to repenting. Again the devil appeared to claim his soul, and again Jack bargained, this time challenging him to a game of dice, an offer Satan could never resist, but a game that Jack excelled at. The devil threw snake eyes—two ones—and was about to haul him off, but Jack used a pair of dice he himself had whittled. When they landed as two threes, forming the T-shape of a cross, once again the devil was powerless. Jack bargained for more time to repent.

He kept thinking he’d get around to repentance later, at the last possible minute. But the agreed-upon day arrived and death took him by surprise. The devil hadn’t showed up and Jack soon found out why not. Before he knew it Jack was in front of the pearly gates. St. Peter shook his head sadly and could not admit him, because in his whole life Jack had never performed a single selfless act. Then Jack presented himself before the gates of hell, but the devil was still seething. Satan refused to have anything to do with him.

“Where can I go?” cried Jack. “How can I see in the darkness?”

The devil tossed a burning coal into a hollow pumpkin and ordered him to wander forever with only the pumpkin to light his path. From that day to this he has been called “Jack o’ the Lantern.” Sometimes he appears on Halloween!

[pic credit]

5 comments Add comment

Steve S. October 30, 2009 at 8:03 pm

No offense, but doesn’t this story address the reality of hell in a rather “un-Christian” manner? Some may see the Jack o’ Lantern as a symbol of God mitigating punishment due to inadequate faith. The War between Heaven and Hell is much more severe than this story dares to consider!

Matthew Warner October 30, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Steve – it’s a good thought. It’s definitely no where near theologically correct. But it’s an interesting story about the background of the tradition. And it does have a moral…

I think the moral of the story is that even if you’re smart enough to outsmart the devil himself; even if you have the ability to live precisely the life for yourself that you desire; even if you were to overcome all obstacles in your life all on your own…if you only do it all for yourself (as opposed to doing it for love of others and a faith in God), it will still never be enough to get you into heaven.

Dean Soto November 2, 2009 at 2:45 am

Interesting. I love these stories, but they are hard to verify as truly accurate. Nonetheless, they are great tales that bring a different dimension to things that we take for granted.

Steve S. November 2, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Thank you for clarifying, Matt. I can better see how the story demonstrates the point that you are making. Thanks! :-)

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