Ghosts, Ghouls, Goblins and Jack O’Lanterns

by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

With Halloween approaching, the excitement is mounting for young children anxious to go Trick or Treating on October 31st. What costume is selected this year is the number one decision to make and usual winners are the super hero of the day or a favorite cartoon character. In my day the choices were narrower and when in doubt it was solved by putting a white sheet over your head with eyes, nose and mouth openings cut out. An instant “ghost” was created and for me as a grade school child, I became Casper the Ghost!  Speaking of spooky Halloween characters, do you know the difference about them and their history? Since ghosts are opaque, the color white is associated with these “souls or spirits of the dead”. Being a ghost does not always mean they are evil. Now we come to a similar word, ghoul, and that often conjures up more scary thoughts thanks to the horror movie genre. Now we come to the goblin, which can either be malicious in its pranks or simply playful. Depending on the story or fairytale being told, a goblin can take on various forms and personalities. Their forms can be cute like a little elf or more horrifying figure in animal or human form that comes after people!

Jack O’Lantern

It’s not Halloween unless there is a carved pumpkin in the house or on the front porch many people feel is the required decoration. How did this trend become part of the holiday? Way back in the 1600’s European farmers, usually Irish and British, used to carve faces into beets, turnips and potatoes and put candles inside to scare off evil spirits. These were put in the windows on October 31st the day before the day to remember the dead, so no bad spirts would come near the house. When these traditions were carried to the new world with the influx of these farmers, pumpkins began to be used instead. By the way, the first mention about Jack O’Lanterns was when Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book Twice Told Tales was published in 1837 and used the term. Thus, a tradition was started that still exists to this day.

Speaking of Jack, have you ever thought about how often that name is used in stories, poems and fairytales? Who jumped over the candlestick? It was Jack be nimble of course. Who put his thumb in a pie to pull out a plumb? Little Jack Horner was the culprit. Jill’s partner running up the hill was Jack who came tumbling down afterwards. Who had a wife that that ate no fat? Jack Sprat was known to eat “no lean”. Then we have that boy that climbed the beanstalk to find the giant’s gold and steal the magic hen. One might wonder why this name is used so often in these tales. First of all, it is a short, easy to say name and rhymes easily in simple poems. It is very popular in English folktales and other countries like Germany and France. In German the name might be Jacob and the diminutive form can become Jack. In French the name becomes Jacques. The list can go on with Jack being mentioned and we can find it in Jack Frost and The House that Jack Built, or when someone is very handy, they may be called a jack of all trades. Can you think of any other expressions with the name of Jack?