A Pumpkin and a Beanstalk?

by Mary Frances Erler

One Celtic tradition that crossed the Atlantic with many Irish and Scottish immigrants was the “Jack Tales.”  The one familiar to most of us is the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”  Recently, I’ve learned that there are many more of these tales of a sharp-witted trickster named Jack.  Here’s one for Halloween:

The Celts have long observed Samhain (pronounced sah-wheen) on October 31, marking the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  As the northern nights grew longer, the Celts believed Samhain was the night when the world of the dead and the spirits was closest to the world of the living.

From this has grown our tradition of ghosts and goblins abroad in the night.  In ancient times, people dressed in costumes to scare the real ghouls away.  Offerings of special foods were set out to appease the ghosts so they would leave without committing mischief.  Hence our tradition of “Trick or Treat.”

The popular Jack-o-Lantern was also part of this tradition.  The tale goes that Jack’s spirit roamed the earth on Samhain, but decided he needed a light to better find his way.  In a farmer’s field he found a very large turnip, hollowed it out, cut eye-holes, and put a candle inside.  Thus was born the JACK-o-Lantern.

Perhaps others in the world of the living took Jack’s idea and turned it into a light to keep the ghosts and ghouls away, placing the lights on their porches or in a window.  In America, pumpkins were more common than turnips and easier to carve.  And so our tradition was born.

Wishing all of you a Happy Halloween!

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