The jack o’lantern is one of the most popular and enduring symbols of Halloween, that night when children of all ages dress up and go door to door in search of treats. But where did “jack” come from?

Its origins can be found in Irish myth. According to the stories, a crafty soul nicknamed Stingy Jack played a trick on the devil. In one version, Jack lured Satan up into an apple tree, then planted a circle of crosses around the tree to trap him there. In exchange for being set free, the devil promised not to take Jack’s soul when he died.

In another tale, Jack persuaded the devil to transform himself into a coin; Jack then slipped the coin into a purse that contained a cross. Again, Jack made a deal with the devil before setting him free.

In both stories, after Jack died, both heaven and hell refused to let him in, and he was condemned to wander the world in darkness. Satan offered him an ember of the fires of hell to light his way, and Jack placed it inside a hollowed-out turnip to carry as a lantern.

This “Jack O’Lantern,” using a turnip or a beet, was common in the British Isles to ward away evil spirits on All Hallows’ Eve. Immigrants to North America substituted pumpkins, which were larger, more plentiful, and easier to carve.

Originally associated with harvest season, the jack o’lantern has become part of a traditional Halloween in the United States.

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