Why do we carve pumpkins for Halloween?

Published by Elena Feresin on

The Story of Jack o'Lantern rewritten by me

Jack o'lantern

Today in my imaginary mountain hut we are in the mood for legends by candlelight, or rather by the light of a carved Halloween pumpkin. The story of Jack of the Lantern is lost in the thick plots of history, but below you can find the story reworked in my own way, to answer the question that every Italian asks in this period: why do pumpkins are carved on Halloween?

Jack and the devil

My story begins like many others.

Once upon a time… there was a man who had everything: a wife, a daughter, a good job, and a clever mind.
Many agreed that the man should have used his mind for profit, but he liked being a blacksmith and particularly inlaying silver crosses.
The man’s life flipped around when both his wife and daughter fell ill. It was a simple flu, but it was enough to take the women to the deathbed. He wanted to go too, but no matter how hard he kissed both and how vigorously he begged death to come, but death just wouldn’t hear. As to make everything worse, his wife made him swear, on a precious little cross he gifted her with many years before, that he would live on, remarry and be happy.

That man was me, Jack.
I kept my promise and I’m still alive although I’m the only shadow of the man I used to be.
I don’t care about anything or anyone, not even myself. My only wish is to preserve what my beloved wife and daughter ever touched.
I hate people and people hate me. I despise seeing people have what I lost so I get bitter, I yell and sometimes I use my famous mind to play tricks on whoever crosses my way. Those who once praised me, now are glad that I’m just a blacksmith.

It’s pitch dark when I leave the cemetery on the last day of October. I drag myself on the cobblestone road on the way to the pub. The left hand holds a bottle of whisky, while the right is shoved in the pocket of my coat where, next to my wife’s cross, I calculate how much I have to drink my sorrows away.
I’m still counting when I stumble upon a large black trash bag in the middle of the way. I stick it with the tip of the boot, and it blows into a cloud of dust that reshapes into the form of a tall and thin creature that recalls a mantis. In place of the face, there’s a never-ending black hole. I should be scared, I guess, but I can’t stop staring.

Do you know who I am? Asks the creature.
I hiccup and drink the last drops of whisky. What makes you think I care?
The mantis towers me fierce and threatening. You, infamous man. I’m the Devil and I’ve come to collect your soul.
I hiccup again. Part of me would like to give in and finally put an end to my grievous life. But then I think of the last promise to my wife and I get mad. I recall how all my prayers were left unanswered and decide to use my witty mind to fool the Devil.
I shake my empty bottle. I may be infamous, but you can’t deny a dying man his last sip.
The Devil falters but steps aside and leads the way.
While we walk I consider my next move. As I enter the pub, I sniff the sharp smell of stale wine and vomit which now is family to me, and I sit on the far-left side of the counter. I nod to old Gustav to get my habitual shot of the worst whisky he owns.
Alcohol fills my nostrils and my mind swims into comfortable numbness. I guzzle down the entire glass and the Devil comes closer.
It’s time, it says.
As I stand Gustav looks daggers at me. Don’t you think to leave without paying again, you bastard.
I smile stiffly and turn to my companion. It’s you who wants my soul, the least you can do is pay me the drink. Turn into a coin.
The Devil invests me with his deathly breath but shrinks into the size of a penny, right in the center of my palm. I wrap my fingers around the hellish money and replace it with one of the coins in my pocket. I smile smugly. I have trapped the Devil in my pocket, and now that he is face to face with my crucifix he cannot escape.
Outside the pub, in a turnip field, I feel the coin burning.
Let me out. The Devil screams.
Let’s make a bargain. I propose. Another year of life for your freedom.
That’s all?
What else could a dying man ask?
The Devil sighs. Agreed.
As I took the coin out of my pocket, the Devil vanishes into thin air.

A year later…

October comes again, and nothing has changed. I’m still bitter, I’m still drunk but I always carry crosses in case the Devil comes again.
I don’t know yet if I want to live or die. I believe that more than the will to live, it is avarice that chains me to this world.
I dangle in my garden and notice how much it resembles my outer look. Herbs are as wild and uncultivated as my beard, but fruits are still growing while I’m on the verge of being dead.
When the Devil comes, the air turns a menacing shade of red.
It’s time for you to come. It says.
I look around. I am ready but I have one last wish.
I won’t take you to the pub.
I don’t want you to, but can you fetch me that apple up there? I indicate the farthest fruit on the tallest trees and mentally count all the crosses I have at my disposal.
To my surprise, the devil grants me also this request.
As the Devil ascends, I take out all my crosses and place them around the apple tree’s roots.
You fooled me again. Screams the Devil realizing my trick.
It’s not my time to go yet. I reply. Grant me other years.
Then stay there with the apples. I’ll go have a drink.
I start to leave but I hear my name being yelled.
Promise me that you will never, ever, claim my soul. I continue.
I promise, grunts the Devil, and once again I release him from his branchy prison.

Some years later

The moment has finally come. I’m dead.
I expected to feel pain but alcohol has numbed also this part of my life. The beyond is loud with all the souls ready to pass on. Some scream, some beg to go back but I put myself in line and wait silently for the moment I’ll meet my family again.
I’m Jack, I state at the gates of heaven.
There’s no Jack here, try with the Devil. States a crystal voice from above. Please move aside you’re blocking the queue.
There must be a mistake, I linger angrily.
There are no mistakes in heaven.
I retreat, away from the crowd in a grey, foggy, area, and feel a steady beep in my head. If I weren’t dead, I’d swear I’m about to faint. I realize what I jeopardized with my conduct while on earth and realize that I’ve nowhere to go.
Devil, I yell. Devil, please come.
The fog thickens and thick iron gates appear before me.
Long time no seen, says the familiar voice. What can I do for you?
I’m ready to come.
The Devil laughs. I’m sorry Jack you made me promise not to take your soul. I would never do you wrong.
The fog disappears and we’re back in the turnip field near the pub.
I like you, Jack, you were the only one who stood up to me and I will help you. Take this burning coal. Says the devil putting the coal inside an empty turnip.
What I’m I supposed to do with that? I inquire.
The Devil shakes its shoulders. What you’ve done all your life: search your own hell.

Wondering where I am now? Everywhere and nowhere.
They summon me on Halloween but I’m always around. The Vagabond with the pet turnip.

If you see a light suspended in mid-air, in the depths of October nights, it is I who cross over into my pain, suspended right where the Devil left me, in the abyss between the kingdom of the livings and that of the deads.

Elena Feresin


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