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Why Do We Carve Pumpkins At Halloween?

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Hey there friends, I’m Yvonne Page Illustrates, and this is Facts to Relax, the show where I research topics I find interesting and share what I learn with you while coloring a picture on the screen. If you want to color along with me, there’s a link to download and print this picture in the description below.

Today we’re going to answer the question of why we carve pumpkins at Halloween. Well, carving root vegetables and putting candles inside of them is a tradition that all started back in olden times in Ireland with a story. The tale of Stingy Jack was passed down verbally through the generations and I’d like to share that story with you now. 

The Legend of Stingy Jack and the Very First Jack-O’-Lantern

Once there was a man named Stingy Jack. He was a mean ol’ trickster and was, as his name would imply, quite stingy. One night, Stingy Jack met the Devil walking along the road and invited him to have a drink with at the local pub. When it came time to pay, Stingy Jack said to the Devil “Now you say you can change into anything, right? Well, prove it. Why don’t you turn yourself into a coin so that we can pay for our drinks and cheat the barman?” The Devil, not being a particularly upstanding guy as we all know, was happy to oblige. However, once he held the devil-turned-coin in his hand, Jack decided he’d rather keep the money and placed it in his pocket next to a silver cross. The Devil is repelled by crosses and being next to one prevented him from being able to change back to his original form.

Eventually, Jack grew bored with his prank and freed the devil but he made him promise not to bother him for the next year before he would. The Devil, eager to get Stingy Jack back for his trick, was ready and waiting for him exactly a year later. But Jack was also ready. This year he tricked the Devil into climbing up a tree to pick a particularly delicious looking piece of fruit and when was up in the highest branches, Stingy Jack once again trapped him by placing crosses around the base of the tree so he couldn’t get back down. The only way Jack would remove the crosses was if the Devil not only agreed to leave him alone for the next TEN years, but also promised not to take his soul to hell when he died. The Devil begrudgingly agreed and Jack let him down and the two parted ways.

Not long after this, Stingy Jack died and true to his word, the Devil didn’t come to claim his soul. Instead, Jack ascended to heaven where he was promptly denied entrance at the pearly gates. Stingy Jack had been really quite awful during his life so it’s no wonder they wouldn’t let him in. He had no choice but to float back down to hell, but unfortunately for him, the Devil, still angry about being tricked, refused him entry to that afterlife as well. 

“Where shall I go?” cried Stingy Jack, “you have to let me in!” But the Devil was unmoved. Perhaps if he’d only tricked him one time he could have been forgiven but two times making a fool of the Devil was too much insult for the demon to bear. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a single burning ember from the fires of hell to light his way. 

Luckily Stingy Jack had died with a turnip in his pocket and he was able to carve it out and placed the eternally burning ember inside, and he has been able to use that as a makeshift lantern to guide his way through the earth ever since. Sometimes you can see a ghostly figure wandering about the dark and deserted moors, with just a tiny light leading him through the dark and you’ll know it’s Jack O’ Lantern eternally damned to wander as penance for his stingy, trickster ways. 

The end.

Now the story of Stingy Jack wasn’t necessarily a Halloween story to start with but in Ireland, several traditional holidays that revolved around the spirits of the dead were celebrated around October 31. Ancient Celts considered November 1 to be the start of the new year and it was believed that for a brief window in the time when the old year turned into the new year, on the night of October 31, to be precise, it was possible for people who had died to travel back and visit their homes on earth. This belief was part of the Samhain celebration which included dressing up as demons to scare off any evil spirits that might come back that night. Christianity spread through the area and Samhain traditions began to make way for new religious holidays celebrating the dead. All Souls and All Saints Days were at the beginning of November and All Hallow’s Eve replaced Samhain on October 31. The mix of the Celtic and Christian holidays turned into the Halloween we know and love today with dressing up, trick or treating, and scary, spooky stories. Stingy Jack, with its references to the Devil and crosses definitely has its origins in the Christian belief system and it makes perfect sense that it would quickly become associated with this night when the dead were said to return. People began to carve terrifying demon faces into root vegetables, lit with an ember from their fire or a candle, to scare Stingy Jack, and any other evil spirits that might be lurking, away from their houses on All Hallow’s Eve. Turnips, like Jack had used, and potatoes were the vegetable of choice in Ireland and Scotland. In England, large beets were used.

As immigrants from the area began to make their way to the United States, they brought their holidays, traditions, beliefs, and stories with them, including Halloween, Stingy Jack, and Jack-O’-Lanterns. In America, they found pumpkins, a completely new root vegetable to them but which had been grown for thousands of years by indigenous people on the continent. These vegetables, which were bigger, already hollow, and conveniently harvested in October quickly became the perfect vegetable to use for jack-o’-lanterns. Though the story of Stingy Jack and the very real belief that jack-o’-lanterns will protect homes from evil spirits has mostly faded from our collective memory, the carving of faces or other patterns into pumpkins lit with candles on and around Halloween definitely hasn’t.

So there we have it. The answer to the question of why we carve pumpkins on Halloween. Hopefully you found this video useful and informative and fun. If so, please give it a thumbs up and share with anyone else you might think who would be interested. If you want to learn more new things with me, please subscribe to this channel and come back to color and chill and learn with me again soon. Bye!