The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

The Legend of “Stingy Jack”


Ever wonder how the Jack-O-Lantern tradition originated. provides the answer:

People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

6 thoughts on “The Legend of “Stingy Jack”

  1. We used to carve turnips when I was a kid. Took ages! Didn’t see a pumpkin until I went to America.

    • It’s very messy too. Did you roast the seeds?

      • No u didn’t know anything about pumpkins the first time I carved one. They are very expensive in Australia and Halloween isn’t very big here so we don’t usually bother now.

        • In most places in the world the end of October, early November is a time to visit the graves of dead relatives and friends to clean them up and place flowers and candles. At least that’s what it is like in Zagreb, Croatia. I believe on November 1st they close down the roads to the cemetery and shuttle people there by bus all day long. I went with my mother the last time I was Croatia. It was a very different Holiday from the Halloween we celebrate here – much more reverent and communal.

          • We would have a huge bonfire when I was a kid and if we were really lucky one of the dads would’ve smuggled fireworks across the border from Northern Ireland. We had loads of games we’d play too 🙂

          • Sounds very pagan and like lots of fun!!

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