Jack O’ Lantern
A (non-scary!) Halloween tale for kids about how Jack O' Lanterns came about!
The twins were sitting at the kitchen table with Grandpa, cutting out their pumpkin faces for Halloween. Each of them trying to be just a bit different– Lizzy did a funny face, Denny tried a scary face and Grandpa trying out something new…
“Be careful with those sharp knives…” Grandpa said for the millionth time.
“We are being careful, promise…” Lizzy looked up. “Why do we make scary pumpkin faces for Halloween, anyway…?” she asked.
“Yeah…” Denny frowned. “Why pumpkins? Why scary faces and tea-lights? I bet you don’t know…”
Grandpa laughed. “As it happens, I do know. It’s an old Irish tradition. A lot of Irish people came to America, and they brought the Jack O’Lantern tradition with them…”
“Jack O’ Lantern?” Lizzy laughed. “Was he a pumpkin salesman?”
“No…” Grandpa laughed too. “He was a pretty creepy man, who tricked the Devil. At least, that’s how the story goes…”
“And, you are now going to tell us…” Denny laughed.
“Of course…” Grandpa laughed, too. “Let’s see if I can remember it right…” And he began:
“Everybody called Jack ‘Stingy Jack‘, because he liked to drink a lot and he didn’t like to pay for his drinks in the inns of old Ireland. He always tried to get somebody else to pay…”
“Stingy?” Lizzy asked.
“Stingy means tight-fisted, mean or miserly.”
Lizzy nodded, and the story continued.
“Well, one night, on the 31st of October, as it happened…” They all laughed. “The Devil came for Jack. But Jack was drinking his last drink, and he certainly didn’t want to pay… So, he asked the Devil to pay for his very last drink.”
The children listened.
“But the Devil didn’t have any cash, so he quickly changed himself into a coin to pay for the drink…”
The children shook their heads.
“Quick as a flash, Jack grabbed the coin and stuck into his leather money purse. The Devil was imprisoned, and Jack wouldn’t let him out, there was a tiny cross in the purse and this made the Devil weak… Jack kept the Devil a prisoner, until the Devil promised to leave Jack alone for another year…”
“Thirty-first of October?” Denny grinned.
“Yes, until then. The next year the Devil came again, and this time Jack tried another trick. He asked him to pick the very last apple from a nearby old tree, as Jack’s last meal…”
“Ooops…” Lizzy shook her head.
“The Devil agreed, but, after he had climbed the tree to reach the apple, Jack was quick again. He placed his little cross onto the tree so that the Devil couldn’t climb down again…”
The children shook their heads.
“Well, the Devil now had to promise to leave Jack alone forever, and he did….”
“And that’s the end of the story?” they both asked.
“Not quite…” Grandpa smiled. “Jack died many years later, a very old man. But when he went up to heaven, nobody opened the door for him. They told him that he had spent his life tricking people. So, he went down to Hell, expecting a big welcome, but, nobody wanted him there, either…”
“And, then what happened, and where are the pumpkins in the story?” Lizzy asked.
“The Devil took pity on Jack and handed him a hot glowing piece of coal and a turnip. Jack put the hot coal inside the turnip to keep him warm…and then he wandered from place to place for ever more….” “
A turnip?” Denny asked.
“Yes, in Ireland, they used to use turnips, but later, the pumpkin was used, and it isn’t a hot coal now, but a candle or a tea-light…”
“Is that why we say ‘Trick or Treat’? Because of Jack’s tricking people?”
But before Grandpa could answer, Mom came to pick up the children.
“Wow, what fantastic pumpkins. I love the big one with the moon eyes. Who made that one?”
“Grandpa…” they both said together. “He tricked us…!”
© Andrea Kaczmarek 2020
1. Has anyone in your family ever told you a really good story? What was it about?
1. Can you think of your own story about why we make Jack O’ Lanterns at Halloween?
Illustrations by Pixabay, with thanks.