Jack O’ Lanterns and the Devil

     Let me paint you a picture. It’s fall, the air is crisp but the sun is warm. You’re in a pumpkin patch. You’re searching, hoping, dreaming of finding the perfectly orange, smoothly rounded squash that some people think is a gourd but is, in fact, a squash. Then you see it, in the distance; the perfect pumpkin. You hurriedly claim it as your own and bring it back to your home and prepare to carve it. And then a thought hits you. Why do we carve pumpkins? Who first looked at a pumpkin and thought, “Hey, you know what would be fun? Taking the insides out and then carving a face in the rind!” Well, according to Irish lore, it all started with a man affectionately known as “Stingy Jack.” Now, Jack was an unreputable character and so naturally he asked the Devil to drinks. And true to his name, Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks. So, he convinced the Devil to turn into a coin so that he could pay, but because Jack was wily, he decides to keep the coin, which the Devil had turned into, for himself. Specifically, he kept the Devil-coin in his pocket next to a silver cross to prevent the Devil from transforming out of his coin form.

      Jack eventually decides to set the Devil free on the grounds that he doesn’t bother Jack for a year. After the year is up, similar events occur and we see Jack with the Devil trapped again. This time, he only agrees to let the Devil go if he promises to leave Jack alone for ten years; the Devil agrees. Soon after this, however, Jack dies. According to the lore, God didn’t want to let such a shady character into heaven. But the Devil didn’t want him either because of all the tricks Jack had pulled on him before. Rather than let him into hell, the Devil rejected Jack, thus cursing him to wander the Earth, an angry spirit roaming in the dark forevermore. To guide him in the dark of night, Jack would carve out a turnip and place a burning coal inside to create a sort of lantern. This became known as Jack of the lantern or, jack o’lantern.  The Irish people then started carving ghoulish faces on beets, turnips, and potatoes and placing them in windows and doorframes to keep away Jack and the other malicious spirits. When Irish immigrants came to America, bringing the lantern tradition with them, they discovered pumpkins and realized that they made wonderful jack o’lanterns!

      Today, people have really upped the ante in the jack o’lantern tradition. At the Chadds Ford Historical Society, a mere thirty-minute drive from campus, they hold an annual pumpkin carve, accurately named “The Great Pumpkin Carve.” It has become so popular in recent years and draws such a crowd that this year they actually had to turn people away! According to the Chadds Ford Historical Society website, the carve features over 60 local artists as well as offering a variety of foods and drink. The pumpkins range from the more traditionally carved pumpkins to pumpkins that reference pop culture to some that are truly works of art. The winner last year was a pumpkin carved and sculpted to look like several human faces were trapped inside the pumpkin and were trying to escape. There was also one that was meant to be a fishbowl and several botanical themed pumpkins. It just goes to show that pumpkins, or turnips, can really be turned into works of art with a little finesse and some spooky Halloween magic.

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