I grew up in the suburbs of North Carolina, which means that Halloween was not necessarily a huge ordeal. Trick-or-Treating stopped around 10:00 PM, and people would refuse to hand out candy to you once you hit puberty. With that being said, I am not an avid celebrator of Halloween.
However, after doing some independent research on folklore in a haunted library (Shain Library at Connecticut College), I am now an avid celebrator of Stingy Jack. I feel like he was the missing link for me to be able to sympathize with Halloween fanatics, whom I now realize are mostly elementary school teachers, nurses, Disney adults, and parents of small children.
Nevertheless, if you aren’t currently aware of Stingy Jack, I can fix that for you in five minutes of your time. Stingy Jack’s story originates hundreds of years ago, from ancient Celtic folklore in Ireland. There are many different tellings of his tale, but generally, it goes like this:
Stingy Jack was an old drunk living in a small Irish village who greatly enjoyed taking advantage of others by playing tricks on them. One day, while Stingy Jack was patronizing one of his favorite bars, he ran out of money. In despair, he asked around the bar for spare change, and of course, no one obliged. All of a sudden, the Devil, whom Jack was apparently casual with, offered to buy Jack a drink in exchange for his soul. In the spirit of true alcoholism, Jack agreed to these terms. The Devil then transformed himself into a coin to pay for the drink, but rather than using the coin for a pint, Jack pocketed it next to a crucifix, trapping the Devil in that form. Jack only agreed to let the Devil free from his copper-coin cell when the Devil swore that he would not take Jack’s soul for another ten years.
You would think that Jack would take it easy after a near-miss with Hell, but you would be wrong. Stingy Jack continued to be stingy, and ten years after making his deal, the Devil came to collect. Stingy Jack encountered the Devil while stumbling home from the bar one night. Knowing that the Devil intended to take his soul, Jack asked if the Devil would climb a nearby apple tree to get him one final snack before his journey to the underworld. Apparently the Devil is blind to literary parallelism and repetition, because he agreed to this request. Obviously, Jack whips out the crucifix that he keeps on himself at all times and puts it on the tree, trapping the Devil up in the branches. Jack takes the crucifix down only when the Devil swears that Jack’s soul will never be taken to Hell.
Several years later, I assume when Jack’s liver finally shriveled up from alcohol, he passed away. His soul traveled up to heaven, but he was denied entry by Saint Peter on account of…literally his whole life being evil. His soul then went down to the underworld, but the Devil wouldn’t let him in because of their deal. The Devil told him to leave, tossing him an ember from Hell so that he could see his way out. Jack carved out a turnip and stuck the ember inside, embarking on his fate of roaming the earth for all eternity with nowhere for his soul to rest.
The Irish came to call his ghost “Jack of the Lantern.” Every Halloween, the Irish hollowed out all sorts of vegetables and put lights in them to ward off evil spirits; pumpkins became the popular choice because they were easiest to carve. For some reason, they believed that putting a light inside a vegetable would scare off a man who walked around carrying a light inside a vegetable? I’m not here to judge, only to narrate.
Anyways, I think that this story found me during the right time of my life, and I wanted to share it with whatever audience I have through Her Campus. As a senior in college, I have my fair share of current problems to deal with, especially worries about the future. If you are like me, constantly evading the consequences of my own actions, then I hope that this story gives you inspiration: keep on evading, keep on flying by the seat of your pants! Stingy Jack has a global tradition named after him, and deep down I am sure that no one would be opposed to that honor.
Of course, we can also interpret this story as a cautionary tale against indulging our inner vices and using dishonesty and trickery to evade our responsibilities. I’ll let you choose your own adventure. Happy Halloween!