Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Poor Jack and his Turnip Lantern

As a friend recently noted, pretty much everything is pumpkin themed right now. The season of the pumpkin is fairly standard. We start seeing them outside of store fronts in September and most don’t lose their position until the snowmen are rolled out after Thanksgiving. So, it’s pretty much a solid three months of pumpkin-tastic-ness.

October is the height of this pumpkin hysteria and, as such, needs to distinguish itself from the surrounding pumpkin-loving months. And what better way to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve than taking a giant knife to a pumpkin’s face?

I’ve never given much thought to this oddly violent, yet festive tradition. At least nothing past, Haha! You will be an angry pumpkin. And you, sir, will be a happy pumpkin. Oh, they kind of both look the same. Okay….AMBIVALENT PUMPKINS!

But I just found out that the story of the jack-o’-lantern is well deserving of its place on such a spooky holiday. According to Celtic folklore, it all started when some poor sap named Jack tricked the devil. The retelling of the trick varies, but as a result of this shenanigan, the devil agreed not to take Jack’s soul after death. Pretty sweet, right? Not really. Cause Jack wasn’t all that virtuous throughout his life. Due to his tomfoolery, heaven said “No, thanks,” after he died and he was forced to meander around purgatory. To make matters worse, purgatory did not have the best lighting. So, to see where he was going on these endless wanderings, Jack fashioned himself a lantern from a turnip and a lump of flaming coal that the devil tossed him.

In Jack’s honor the Irish used to carve such lanterns in an attempt to guide the spirits wandering the streets on Halloween. Turnips were originally used, but when the Irish came to America after the potato famine, those weren’t as easy to acquire. So, the tradition was kept up with pumpkins.

The only thing I’m still a little unclear on is when we decided that these lanterns should have faces.....

By Dvortygirl, via Wikimedia Commons

But regardless of how the face on this year’s jack-o’-lantern turns out, I’m going to put the brightest burning candle I can find in that sucker in the hopes of leading poor Jack home. Wherever that may be. Because eternity is a long time to wander.

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