Halloween: Jack O’Lantern
Once upon a time there lived a farmer named Jack. He had a great wit and a quick tongue, but he was lazy. Over the years his fields went to seed, all but a field of turnips, which survived in spite of Jack’s neglect. Jack was known as a trickster, and no one could pull a trick on Jack. But one day there came a knock upon the door, and there stood the devil himself.
“I’ll make you a wealthy man,” the devil told Jack. “All you need to do is sell your soul to me. If I know you, that won’t be a worry at all.”
Now Jack was no fool. He had no interest in selling his soul to the devil. “Let me think a while,” said Jack.
“Very well,” the devil said. “Let’s take a walk. I’ll give you time to think.”
So Jack and the devil began to walk among Jack’s fields.
They stopped beneath a tall tree. That’s when Jack knew how to trick the devil. “Autumn is a pretty time,” he said.
“So it is,” said the devil.
“A perfect time to climb a tree,” Jack added.
“‘Tis that,” the devil agreed.
Then Jack burst out laughing. “You couldn’t climb a tree,” he said.
“Who says I couldn’t climb a tree?” the devil asked, insulted.
“I say,” Jack said, laughing still harder.
So the devil began to climb. He climbed with difficulty because of his cloven hooves. “There you are, Jack,” he called down triumphantly when he had reached the very top of the tree.
But Jack had already carved a cross in the trunk. The devil can’t pass before a cross. So the devil could not climb down the tree. “Remove that cross,” the devil roared.
“First, promise me that you’ll leave and never return to tempt me anymore,” Jack said.
“I promise,” growled the devil, so Jack scratched out the cross. Then the devil clambered down to the ground and ran away so fast, Jack barely saw him leave.
Now the years passed, and Jack continued playing tricks, but the devil never crossed his path again. And then, one day, Jack died.
When Jack reached the gates of heaven, the angels would not let him in because of all the cruel tricks he’d played on people, but when he traveled to hell, he wasn’t permitted in there either because he had tricked the devil.
“Please,” he begged.
But when the devil saw Jack, he remembered how Jack had humiliated him. “Go away!” he said, and he slammed the gates in Jack’s face.
“Where will I go?” Jack begged. “It’s so dark out there that I can’t see my way.”
So the devil picked up a pair of tongs, and handed Jack a single burning coal from the smoldering fire behind him, along with one hollowed-out turnip from Jack’s fields. “Put this flame inside the turnip to light your way,” the devil said.
Ever since, Jack has walked along, carrying the burning coal inside that hollow turnip to light his way. Everyone calls him Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O’Lantern.
Today we remember Jack and his lantern when we carve out pumpkins and put burning candles inside them on Halloween.