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by Dobrodiyka Cornelia Bilinsky
It happens every Hallowe'en night, when you go trick or treating. You‘re dashing up the walk towards a dark house and just as you jump up on the front step, you see it - a huge pumpkin with large glowing eyes, a fiery nose and a burning crooked mouth. It's a jack-o-lantern.
The jack-o-lantern is a very common sight around Hallowe'en. Maybe you've even made one yourself at home, carving a strange face into a pumpkin and putting a candle or a flashlight into the big orange head. But do you know where the idea of a jack-o-lantern came from? Did you know that the first jack-o-lantern was made, not out of a pumpkin, but out of a turnip?
But I'm getting ahead of my story. Let's start at the beginning. A long long time ago, there was a legend told by the people of Ireland about a man called Stingy Jack. I don't know if the story is absolutely true. Maybe some of it is true and some of it is made up. In any case, it is a story that explains a lot of things.
This man named Jack was - stingy. He didn't like to share what he had with others. In fact he preferred to steal from others. Sometimes he might sneak into someone's garden and steal a turnip. Or he might slip into somebody's orchard and steal an apple off a tree. And that wasn't all. Jack also like to tell lies and to play tricks on people. If he came across a friend who was having a lazy afternoon nap, he would tie his shoelaces together, and when his friend got up - well, you know what happened. Some of Jack's tricks were pretty mean. Once he poured a bottle of whiskey into the pigs' trough, and the pigs got drunk. One of them got very sick. Jack played tricks on a lot of people. Some say he even tried to play tricks on the devil, but I don't know about that. We know that he played tricks on his own mother. Once he put salt in her sugar bowl. Needless to say, her morning coffee did not taste very good at all.
One night Jack got very drunk. He stumbled and fell over the edge of a cliff, hurting himself so badly that he died. Now, we know what happens to the souls of people who die. Those who have lived good and holy lives go to Heaven. Heaven is the place where God lives and where all the saints live - saints like St. Peter, who was the first to follow Jesus, St. Nicholas, who spent his whole life helping people, and St. John who loved Jesus so much. Heaven is a beautiful happy place. Perhaps you know of someone in your family who has died and gone to Heaven.
The souls of people who did not live good and holy lives cannot go to Heaven. They have already turned their backs on God. Those who were really mean and evil, those who did really cruel awful things all their lives, go to a place called Hell. Hell is where the devil lives. Hell is not a happy place. It is a place of suffering.
When Jack died, so the story goes, he came before the gates of Heaven and knocked. Saint Peter came out to see who was trying to get into Heaven. When he saw Jack, he sadly shook his head.
“No, Jack. I'm sorry, Jack. Only good and holy souls can live here, Jack. You were stingy, Jack. You used to steal, Jack. You used to tell lies, Jack. You played tricks on people, Jack. You even played tricks on your own mother, Jack. You cannot live in Heaven, Jack.” And with that, St. Peter closed the gates on Jack.
Jack had no choice but to turn away from Heaven. Everything that St. Peter had said was true. Jack knew that he did not deserve to live in Heaven. So Jack went to the gates of Hell and knocked. The devil came out to greet him. The devil looked him over once, twice, three times. He hemmed and hawed.
“Well,” he finally said, “I'd take you in a flash, Jack. I wouldn't mind if everyone came here but this place is reserved only for the meanest, the worst, the most despicable, the most evil of souls. Oh, you were bad enough, Jack, playing all those mean tricks on people all your life. You even tried to play tricks on me. Well, I'm sorry, Jack, but the last trick is mine. You cannot live in Hell. I'm not going to let you in.” And with that the devil closed the gate on Jack.
There was Jack, standing in the darkness not knowing where to go. Heaven didn't want him. Hell didn't want him. It is said that in order to find his way around in the darkness, he hollowed out a turnip and placed a glowing coal inside it. With the light of this lantern, he wandered about, thinking about his life and how stingy he had been, how he had played tricks on his friends, even on his own mother. Nobody knows for sure what happened to him. I like to think that as time went by, he became more and more sorry for his bad deeds and that by and by, when he knocked again on the gates of Heaven, St. Peter saw how sorry he was and finally let him in.
The people of Ireland liked to tell this story a long long time ago, on the evening of All-Hallow's Day, that big feastday on which they remembered all those who had died. And as they told the story, they themselves fashioned lanterns out of hollowed out turnips and placed lighted candles inside of them. They placed these homemade lanterns on their doorsteps, or carried them about. Some say they did this to keep the evil spirits away. But maybe, just maybe, it was to give light to some wandering soul who might be lost - someone like Stingy Jack.
When the Irish came to America, they discovered that pumpkins were plentiful and so much easier to carve that those tough turnips. And so began of the custom of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns.
We Christians, however, although we have fun carving pumpkins on Hallowe'en, we know that we don't really need a jack-o-lantern to help us find our way. We have Jesus. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall never walk in darkness. No, he shall possess the light of life.” If we follow Jesus, we will live a good and holy life here on earth and we surely find our way to Heaven, just as did St. Peter and St. Nicholas and St. John and so many others.
Oh, if only Stingy Jack had listened to Jesus.