Monday, October 27, 2008

Stingy Jack

Each year on Halloween, I teach a history lesson about how Halloween came to be the holiday it is today. We discuss the religious and cultural aspects of the holiday and how those different ideas and beliefs blended into what Americans celebrate.

My favorite Halloween myth is the one about Stingy Jack. It is the story of how Jack O'Lanterns came to be.

There was this Irishman named Jack who was very miserly. The story goes that he was having a drink with the Devil one night and promised to give the Devil his soul if the Devil paid for the drinks. The Devil changed himself into a coin to pay the bartender, and Jack, being stingy and miserly, snatched up the coin and put it in his pocket. Jack always carried a silver cross in that pocket and the cross kept the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack made the Devil promise to leave him alone for a year. One year later, the Devil sought out Jack to take his soul, but Jack tricked the Devil again by asking the Devil to get him an apple from a tree as his last meal. The Devil, figuring he had nothing to lose climbed the tree. Jack immediately put crosses around the trunk of the tree, trapping the Devil. He would not release the Devil until the Devil promised to leave Jack alone for 10 years and that if Jack died, he would not claim Jack's soul. The Devil agreed and Jack released the Devil.

When Stingy Jack eventually passed away several years later, he went to the Gates of Heaven, but was refused entrance because of his life of drinking and because he had been so tight-fisted and deceitful. So, Jack then went down to Hell to see the Devil and find out whether it were possible to gain entrance into the depths of Hell, but the Devil kept the promise that had been made to Jack years earlier, and would not let him enter.

"But where can I go?" asked Jack.

"Back to where you came from!" replied the Devil.

The way back was windy and very dark. Stingy Jack pleaded with the Devil to at least provide him with a light to help find his way. The Devil, as a final gesture, tossed Jack an ember straight from the fires of Hell. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out of Jack's favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. From that day forward, Stingy Jack has been doomed to roam the earth without a resting place and with only his lit turnip to light the way in the darkness.

Have a fun Halloween!!

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