Since Halloween is approaching, it’s probably worthwhile to look at reasons we follow bizarre traditions when celebrating it. What’s the purpose of a Jack O’Lantern besides lighting the steps so little kids don’t fall?
According to That’s Right Nate, it’s all about how the Irish wanted to keep Christianity alive in Ireland.
One of the stories, atheists don’t want you to know is the story of the Jack O’Lantern.
Proving you wrong right now, buddy.
In Ireland, Christians were persecuted for many centuries. One of the reasons that St. Patrick was celebrated for driving the snakes from Ireland is because they used to feed Christian children to the snakes. Christians were kept poor and not allowed to hold jobs. Their possessions were simple, but their faith was mighty.
Patrick is considered a Catholic saint not because stopped real snakes from biting Catholic children, but because he helped Catholicism and Christianity in general spread in Ireland during the early 400s, which allowed priests to take over where Druids left off. As one who went to a school named after the man, you can trust me on this. If you don’t want to trust me, read this instead.
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. (Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries-spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.)
Sun worship, Son worship. Easy peasy. But back to Nate’s “history”:
As the Irish traveled along the countryside at autumn harvest time looking for work picking crops, they were frequently met with signs that said Christians need not apply. Even a non-Christian who hired a Christian to pick his crops faced persecution from the Irish King. The Irish needed a subtle symbol to let others know that they welcomed Christians and that the light of Jesus shined within them. They came up with the idea of taking a pumpkin and carving a smiling face on it. They then placed a candle inside the pumpkin and placed it in the window.
Pumpkins are indigenous to America. When Irish settlers got here, they were pleased to discover they were easier to hollow out for lamps than the turnips (aka swedes) and gourds and beets they used to use back home.
The pagan Irish had Samhain and a belief system ripe with spirits of the dead walking among us some nights. With Patrick and other missionaries adding Christian mythology into their spirit soup, it’s no big surprise that folklore would develop about some of them, like the many stories surrounding Jack and the Devil.
One story (from that turnip link above) goes that Jack was a prankster and a drunk who tricked the Devil into climbing a tree and trapped him up there with crosses. The Devil had to promise he wouldn’t take Jack’s soul before Jack would let him down. So, when Jack dies, and Peter at the gates tells him he was far too rotten to even think of entering heaven, the poor bugger has no where he can go. The Devil finds this hilarious and tosses him an ember from hell and Jack hollows out a turnip to carry it and wanders forever. People follow suit because a lump of coal in a vegetable (candles came later) somehow kept Jack away, but welcomed good souls back.
Another version goes that Jack and the Devil were boozing it up one night and Jack refused to pay up. The Devil turns into a coin, knowing the stingy bastard won’t pay his tab with it, but winds up dropped in the pocket Jack keeps his cross so the Devil is somewhat stuck that way, until he promises not to collect Jack’s soul later. Story ends the same as the first did.
The Irish named this pumpkin Jack of the Light or the Americanized version, “Jack O’ Lantern”. Nowadays, pumpkins are carved into the most grotesque and hideous shapes imaginable and the original meaning of the Jack O’Lantern has been lost. This Halloween if you carve a pumpkin with your children I hope you’ll tell them the story of how the Jack O’Lantern saved Christianity in Ireland–one of the most Christian nations in the world today.
Many Irish names are contractions of “of the” because it’s a holdover from the years of Celtic clans and Gaelic ancestry, by and large. Rob of the Grady clan – Rob O’Grady. Jack of the Lantern Story – Jack O’Lantern. Same deal.
This morning I asked Nate where he found his information and he replied sometime today that it’s out of an old children’s book called Why God Loves the Cactus by a Rev. E.E. Sloan.
I can’t find a reference to it anywhere online so I wonder how old it is, and where Sloan got his information. There seems to be no history I can find that supports any of it. Ten minutes worth of hunting found more than enough to refute every claim provided, yet Nate shills it like it’s God’s honest truth.
Now, this isn’t a flaw only found in the Christian mentality; the “belief without proof” thing seems to be an issue across humanity. Whether it’s of “supernatural” origin, or alternative health care or a bridge for sale, there’s no limit to the zany things people will buy without questioning legitimacy.
Something to work on, dontcha think?