With the arrival of Halloween tomorrow, the houses in my neighborhood are becoming ghoulish haunts. Front yards are littered with tombstones and zombies and skeletons are lurking in the shadows. I love when homeowners make the effort to create haunted gardens, even if it’s a traditional jack-o-lantern greeting children as they scream “trick or treat?”
Have you ever wondered why we crave pumpkins for Halloween?
The tradition dates back several centuries to Ireland, where a lazy farmer named Stringy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. When the time came to pay for his drink, Jack convinced the Devil to transform into a coin, but instead of paying with it, he put it the coin in his pocket with a silver cross to prevent the Devil from transforming back. When Jack finally decided to let the Devil go, he made the Devil promise that the he wouldn’t take his soul.
Unfortunately for Jack, he died the following Halloween (of unrelated causes) and was turned away from the Heaven because of his sinful lifestyle. Turning to the Gates of Hell as a last resort, he was turned away by the Devil because the Devil had promised not to claim Jack’s soul. Poor Jack was alone in the darkness, but the Devil took pity on him and gave him a glowing piece of coal to light his way. Luckily Jack found a turnip and put the burning coal inside. To this day, Jack is roaming the earth, carrying the turnip lantern to find his way in the darkness.
Although there are many different versions of Stringy Jack’s story, all lead to the tradition of carving turnips. Since pumpkins were more plentiful then turnips in North America, Irish emigrants decided to hollow out the large orange gourds when making their Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween.
To read more Halloween horticulture, check out Charmian Christie’s article ‘Halloween Plant Lore.