One of the most popular and best loved Halloween characters, Jack-o'-lantern was originally part of an Irish tradition in which gigantic potatoes, turnips and swedes -rather than pumpkins which had not yet reached Ireland - were hollowed out, sculpted into terrifying faces, and illuminated from within by candles, to be used as lanterns for the Halloween feast.

The name, Jack-o'-lantern apparently comes from a traditional Irish tale about a man called Jack who was a well known drunkard and miser. One evening while drinking in his pub, the Devil appeared to him and demanded his soul. Jack cleverly persuaded him to have a drink before they left. To pay for his drink, the Devil transformed himself into a sixpenny piece which Jack immediately pounced on. He put it in his bag which had a cross-shaped lock on it, thus preventing the Devil from escaping.

In the end, Jack freed the Devil on condition that he allowed him another year on earth. Twelve months later, when he came back, Jack played another trick on the Devil who finally left him free again at the foot of a tree. The Devil promised he would no longer come in search of him.

Eventually Jack died. Driven out of Paradise because of his sins, and from Hell because of the tricks he played, Jack, in despair, negotiated a burning coal from the Devil to light him on his way in the dark. He put it in a turnip he happened to be eating, and as the story goes, was condemned to walk with his lantern until the Day of Judgement.

For more information : "Secrets et mystères d'Halloween"
édition Jacques Grancher, Paris, France