There is an old Irish folk tale that I want to pass on to you this morning. It's the story about an old Irish drunk named Stingy Jack. Now Jack loved to play tricks on everyone...his few friends, his fellow villagers, his family, even his own mother!
One night on his way home from the local pub, Stingy Jack ran into the Devil Himself. The Devil told Jack that it was time to die and he had come to personally escort Jack to Hell. However, Jack managed to trick the Devil into climbing up in an apple tree (no one knows how) and while the Devil was up in the tree, Jack hurried to nail a cross to the base of the tree. This prevented the Devil from getting down from the tree and he was forced to make a deal with Stingy Jack.
All Jack wanted was the promise from the Devil that when he died, the Devil would not take him to Hell. Also, Jack didn't want to die right away, but wanted some more time to drink and party. Reluctantly, Old Nick agreed to the deal and Jack let him down from the tree.
A few weeks later, Stingy Jack died. He walked up to the Pearly Gates of Heaven, but God didn't want to let a person as stingy, mean and as morally corrupt as Jack into Heaven, so Stingy Jack was turned away. With no other choice, Jack made his way down to the gates of Hell. The Devil, however, remembered his promise and refused Stingy Jack entry into Hell as well.
"Where can I go?" Jack said. "Go back to where you came from!" said the Devil. "But it's so dark, how can I find my way?" asked Jack. Jokingly, the Devil threw Stingy Jack an ember from the flames of Hell to use as a light. Stingy Jack took a turnip, his favorite food, out of his pocket and hollowed it out. He then put the ember inside and used the turnip as a lantern to light his way.
From that time on, Stingy Jack was known as Jack of the Lantern...which later became Jack o'lantern. That's right, my friends, the original jack o'lantern was not a pumpkin, but was a turnip or potato or whatever else was available.
When the Irish brought the folktale to America, they found that pumpkins made a good replacement for turnips and were much more plentiful and easier to carve out. Thus was born the modern jack o'lantern as we know it.
Now, my friends, I think I'm ready for some fresh coffee. How about you...?