How to turn your jack-o’-lantern into a spooky fairy house

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This fall, instead of carving a traditional jack-o’-lantern, I decided to turn my pumpkin into a spooky fairy house. Although, to be honest, the miniature house turned out to be more whimsical and adorable than scary.

If you’ve never heard of a fairy house, don’t worry. The concept is quite simple. It’s just a small house made to house an even smaller, invisible and magical being. Do you remember the movie “FernGully”? Imagine that, but in your garden.

Building fairy houses is primarily considered an activity for children, but I would say it can be a fun craft for adults as well. And my dog, Juno, seemed to like watching the whole process.

Starting with a small pumpkin, I cut off its top and scooped out the seeds and slimy innards, just like I would a jack-o’-lantern. I then traced a rounded doorway and circular windows before carving with pumpkin carving tools.

Fall is the perfect time to build fairy houses out of pumpkins using natural materials such as colorful leaves, dried wildflowers and acorns. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki)

Next, I searched for the perfect spot for my fairy house, which ended up being a flat, mossy rock near my house, within sight of the front driveway. I placed my pumpkin there, then walked around my property looking for decorations.

Everyone has different rules when it comes to building fairy houses. But a common rule is to use only natural objects in your construction. This means plants, rocks, shells, sticks, bark and more. However, it is important that you do not harm the environment in the process. In my opinion, plucking clumps of moss or peeling bark from living trees is a big no-no in building fairy houses. It’s just not necessary. I don’t think fairies would like that either.

For this reason, fall is the perfect time to build a fairy house because there are so many dried up, dead, and fallen natural objects to work with. As I wandered through my yard and the surrounding forest, I found acorns, a variety of colorful leaves that had just fallen, twigs, dried fern stems, asters, a clump of wispy lichen, and bark of fallen trees. I also grabbed some late bloomers from my garden. Using my imagination, I used many items to decorate my pumpkin house.

Do you think the fairies will like it?

At night, I light up the house with battery-operated lights. I could also use a candle.

If you don’t mind breaking the “all natural” rule, you can also add things like doll furniture. Or you can make it a little more Halloween with cotton cobwebs and plastic spiders, skulls and bats (typical party favors). You can also paint your pumpkin to add a covering, window and door frames, signs, vines or any other design.

Pumpkins are great for building fairy houses in the fall. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki)

Building fairy houses is a family activity and a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get creative. Over the past decade it has become increasingly popular. However, I am convinced that children all over the world have been building tiny homes from natural materials for much longer than that.

I built my first fairy house in 2010, at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. While exploring the gardens, I came across a ‘fairy village’, which was a fenced area in the forest where visitors were encouraged to build fairy houses.

A few years later, I saw a similar fairy village on a reserve in Harpswell. It was located along a popular footpath called the Cliff Trail, which is run by the Harpswell Heritage Trust.

I’ve also heard of fairy house areas on Monhegan Island and Mackworth Island, but haven’t visited them yet.

If you’re building a fairy house on property you don’t own, it’s important to find a designated fairy house area or get permission first. I hate to be depressing, but I’ve seen fairy houses built haphazardly along hiking trails, and they disrupt the natural beauty of the wilderness.

If you want to learn more about fairy houses, Maine author Liza Gardner Walsh has written several books on the subject, starting in 2012 with “Fairy House Handbook.” Dubbed “The Maine Fairy” by Down East Magazine, Walsh has written about everything from fairy house crafts to cooking. She has also published four children’s storybooks about fairies.

I also suggest Maureen Heffernan’s 2010 book “Fairy Houses of the Maine Coast.”

In March 2020, while working from home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote a how-to article on building fairy houses for the Bangor Daily News. Thought this would be a fun activity for people stuck at home to do, especially with schools closed. I asked readers to build their own fairy house and send me the pictures. The response was heartwarming. The children of Clifton, Blue Hill, Ellsworth and Warren rose to the challenge. I even had a girl from Washington state participate. His grandfather, from Charlotte, Maine, told him about it.

For the article, I created a fairy house using a roll of birch bark from a fallen tree on my property. It was a challenge to fold the paper bark into the shape of a house and cut out a domed door with scissors. I created a walkway with tiny spruce cones and covered the roof with fallen lichens and granite pebbles.

I must say that it is easier to use a pumpkin. The walls, floor and roof are already built. If you’re looking for something new to do with your Halloween pumpkin, I highly suggest making a fairy house.

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