A stingy Irish blacksmith named Jack had the misfortune to run into the Devil in a pub one day. Jack had too much to drink and was about to fall into the Devil's hands, but he managed to trick the Devil by offering his soul in exchange for one last drink. The Devil turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender, but Jack quickly pocketed him in his purse. Because Jack had a silver cross in his purse, the Devil could not change himself back. Jack would not let the Devil go until he promised not to claim his soul for ten years.
The Devil agreed and ten years later Jack came across the Devil while walking on a country road. The Devil wanted to collect, but thinking quickly, Jack said "I'll go, but before I go, will you get me an apple from that tree?" The Devil, thinking he had nothing to lose, jumped on Jack's shoulders to get the apple. Jack pulled out his knife and carved a cross in the trunk of the tree. This left the Devil stuck in the tree, unable to collect on Jack's soul. Jack made him promise to never again ask for his soul. Seeing no way out, the Devil agreed.
When Jack finally died years later he was not admitted to Heaven because of his life of drinking and being tighfisted & deceitful. When he went to apply for entrance to Hell, the Devil had to turn him away because he agreed never to take Jack's soul. "But where can I go?", asked Jack. "Back where you came from!", replied the Devil. The way back was windy and dark. Jack begged the Devil to provide him a light to find his way. The Devil threw a live coal from the fire of Hell at Jack. Jack put it in a turnip he was eating to light his way and keep it from blowing out in the wind.
Ever since that day, Jack has been doomed to wander in darkness with his lantern until Judgment Day. Jack of the lantern became known as the symbol of a damned soul.
People believed that spirits and ghosts left their graves on Halloween and would seek out warmth in their old homes. Villagers, fearful of the possibility of being visited by the ghosts of past occupants, would dress up in costumes to scare the spirits on their way. They would also leave food and other treats at their door to appease the spirits, so they would not destroy their homes or crops, but instead move on down the road. They also began to hollow out turnips with a face either painted or carved into it, and place lighted candles inside, hoping the image of a dammed soul would scare the spirits away.
When the Irish Potato Famine prompted over 700,000 to immigrate to the Americas. These immigrants brought with them their traditions of Halloween and Jack o'Lanterns, but turnips were not as available as they were in Ireland. They found the American pumpkin to be a more than adequate replacement.
Carve your own virtual Jack-O-Lantern