JACK O’ LANTERN
Approximately 2000 years ago, a tradition began which has carried on throughout the ages – until present day. This custom is known as Halloween (shortened from the original ‘All Hallows’ Even’, to All Hallows’ Eve). This originated in northern Europe, especially in the Uk and Northern France by a culture of pagan people, who occupied these regions – known as the Celts and Scottish Gaelic’s.
At the end of their harvesting season on the evening of 31st October (All Hallows’ Eve), they dressed up in animal skins and held a festival known as ‘Samhain’ (meaning, end of the month in the ancient Celtic calendar and the beginning of a new year). The ceremony was conducted by the Celtic Priests (Druids), where animals were sacrificed and provisions made ready for the feared winter months.
Winter was a time when death rates rose and it was thought by the Celts that Hallows’ evening created a periphery between life after the summer months and the beginning of the winter death season, where evil spirits were believed to be rife.
As the sun began to set on Hallow’s Eve, people believed death and disease would soon follow. Bonfires were lit and the celebrations began to try appease the evil spirits. This custom went on annually for centuries and was known as a Celtic tradition, until the Christians also began celebrating it.
Halloween, also became a celebration on ‘All Saints Day’ after Pope’s Gregory III and Gregory IV decided that the Christian feast ‘All Saints Day’ held on May 13 in honour of Saints, should be changed to November 1. However, the feast began using the ‘Florentine calendar’ (meaning: celebrated on the previous evening after sun set) and was known as Hallow’s eve…bringing the two traditions together.
The Irish are famed for introducing Halloween to North America during their ‘Great Famine’ in 1846 when many emigrated there. From this tradition, the Americans initiated the emblem, ‘Jack of the Lantern’ (now known as ‘Jack O’ Lantern’). However, this was supposedly not the case, ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ was apparently associated with the North American harvest season long before the Americans were introduced by the Irish to Halloween.
Irish folklore tells a different story of the origin of ‘Jack O’ Lantern’:
It was said, a man called Jack was being hunted down by village folk from who he had pilfered earlier in the day. As he was running through the woods, he was met by the devil himself, who told Jack, ‘now it is time to die.’ Desperate – Jack convinced the devil to trick the church going villagers by turning himself (the devil) into a silver coin for which Jack could then pay what he owed. Then he told the devil to disappear and cause the villagers to fight over the whereabouts of the coin.
The devil succumbed to this plan and turned himself into a coin, which Jack promptly put into his wallet and fastened. Little did the devil know, that Jack had a cross in his wallet – also stolen from the villagers. The cross immediately stripped the devil of all his powers and Jack only agreed to let the devil out if he promised that his soul would remain free.
Years later, when Jack eventually died, his soul was considered too sinful to be allowed into heaven, therefore his only other route was to go to hell. However, the devil had promised not to take his soul and therefore Jack could not enter. Jack asked the devil how he would find his way and with what light. The devil laughed and threw Jack an ever-burning ember from the pits of hell. Jack then found a turnip, dug out all the flesh, and cut holes into its side. He placed the ember inside and began his journey looking for a place of rest, but Jack could never find such a place and was bound to wander the earth for eternity.
The twisted, evil form of ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ can sometimes be seen on Halloween – but be warned!…beware of looking into the ember flame!
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