Its almost Halloween! If you find yourself walking down a lonely, dark, misty road on All Hallow’s Eve, in Ireland, and you see a spectral light and a dim figure approaching, the best thing you can do is turn around and hastily go the other way. You have come face to face with Stingy Jack and his Halloween Turnip.
Stingy Jack was a terrible person. A blacksmith by trade, he spent most of his time cheating, lying, and stealing from the local peasants and any unwary visitor unfortunate enough to come in contact with him. When he wasn’t being a terrible person, he was at the local tavern becoming an obnoxious drunkard.
His reputation spread. He became famous for his ability to talk people out of their life savings. His “silver tongue” became legendary.
Even the Devil started hearing about Stingy Jack and he didn’t like what he heard. He was the “silver-tongued Devil” wasn’t he? No one else was going to take HIS place! So he decided it was time to pay Stingy Jack a visit. Stingy Jack had run out of time.
One dark and nasty night, Stingy Jack was walking up the dark lane after spending several hours at his favorite Tavern. He spied someone lying in the road and the figure was grinning nastily at him. When he got a little closer, he realized it was none only than Satan and Stingy Jack knew his time was up; it was time to pay his dues.
Stingy Jack approached ol’ Lucifer and said, “I know who you are and I am ready to go with you. But, before we descend into the bowels of Hades, couldn’t you and I go back to the Tavern and have a couple of rounds of ale to refresh ourselves before our journey?”
The Devil thought about it for an instant and, not seeing any reason not to go to the Tavern, he said to Stingy Jack, “Ok.”
They returned to the Tavern and spent a couple of hours drinking ale and, when it was almost morning, Stingy Jack turned to leave.
“Wait a minute,” said the Devil, “You invited me here, you have to pay the Tavern Keeper.”
“But, I don’t have any money,” said Stingy Jack, “You can pay him.”
But the Devil refused.
Stingy Jack thought about it for a second and then came up with a solution.
“I know what we can do,” he said to Lucifer. “You can turn yourself into a silver coin and I can pay the tavern keeper. When he goes into the back room to get another keg of ale, you can turn yourself back into yourself and we can sneak out the door.”
The Devil thought about it and was impressed with Stingy Jack’s plan. It was an idea worthy of him. So, he turned himself into a silver coin.
But, instead of giving the silver coin to the tavern keeper, Stingy Jack stuck it into his grimy pocket, under a crucifix he kept there.
The Devil was livid with anger. He couldn’t believe he’d been fooled by Stingy Jack!
Jack paid the tavern keeper with his own money and left the tavern. The Devil kept begging him to set him free and finally Stingy Jack made him a bargain. “If you promise to leave me alone for ten years, I will set you free,” he told the Devil.
What could the Devil do? He promised and Jack set him free.
The ten years went by quickly and Stingy Jack became worse than before. Everyone was afraid of him and his cheating ways and avoided him whenever possible.
Then, one cold, dark evening, Stingy Jack saw the same familiar figure lying in the road grinning at him again.
“Oh, no,” he thought. “Already!”
He went up to the Devil, who was now standing under a magnificent apple tree. “OK,” he said. “You’ve got me this time. I’m ready. But, before we go, could you do me a favor? For many days I’ve wanted one of those juicy apples from this tree, but they’re all at the top. I am old and cannot climb up there to get one. Would you do an old man a favor and go up the tree and get me one last apple to munch on during our journey to Hades?”
The Devil decided that this wasn’t an unreasonable request so he climbed up the tree and tossed down the best apple to Stingy Jack. Then, to his dismay, when he tried to descend from the tree, he discovered that Jack had carved crosses all around the trunk of the tree and he was trapped! Foiled again!
He begged and pleaded with Jack to let him down while Jack casually munched on his apple.
“Ok,” Jack said. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll let you down if you promise to leave me alone for another ten years and you must PROMISE you’ll never take my soul to Hades.”
“It’s a deal,” sighed the Devil. What choice did he have?
So Stingy Jack once again set the Devil free and laughed as he vanished into thin air.
Well, seven years passed and Stingy Jack came to the end of his life. He wasn’t too worried because he knew the Devil couldn’t claim his soul and he would be able to go to Heaven. He died with a smirk on his face.
When Stingy Jack swaggered up to the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter had a surprise for him. “There’s no way you are entering Heaven, Stingy Jack. We don’t let criminals and bad people like you into Heaven. Go back where you came from!”
Dismayed, Jack returned to earth and pondered his situation. Finally, he went to the Gates of Hades. “You win, Devil,” he said. “Let me into Hades.”
The Devil laughed. “I can’t let you into Hades, Jack,” he said. “I made you a solemn promise that I wouldn’t take your soul into Hades and I can’t go back on my word. You are cursed to wander eternally in the darkness between Heaven and Hell. ETERNALLY!”
As a dejected Jack turned to go, the Devil said, “Here. Here’s an ember from Hades to help light your way,” and he tossed an ember to Jack.
The only thing Jack had in his pocket was a turnip he had stolen (he loved turnips) and his pocketknife. He cut off the top of the turnip and scooped out the insides, carving holes in the sides so, when he put the ember inside, he had a lantern of sorts.
The Devil made sure that news of Jack’s predicament spread throughout the countryside. Local residents would sometimes see Jack’s lantern glowing dimly in the distance and avoid him. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, soon shortened to JACK O’LANTERN.
His evilness didn’t stop, especially on All Hallow’s Eve when it was easier for evil spirits to harass the living. So the local peasants began to carve turnips and rutabagas and put candles inside them to scare Jack away if he should approach their homes.
When the Irish came to America, they brought many of their traditions with them, including this one. It didn’t take long, though, before they discovered that it was easier to carve a PUMPKIN to put in their windows and on their porches on Halloween, then a TURNIP.
But, you still must be careful on Halloween – creepy things are out and about!!