3 Pumpkin-less Jack-o’-Lanterns

Want a break from pumpkin carving this year? Try one of these lantern alternatives.

By: Shelly Reese

Some families have a knack for carving elaborate Jack-o’-lanterns. Ours doesn’t. My daughter was still wearing princess costumes when she adamantly declared, “Princesses do not scoop goop!”

That’s pretty much the universal sentiment around our house. Pumpkin carving and the ensuing mess just isn’t our thing. So I was thrilled to discover several inexpensive, non-pumpkin alternatives for Halloween lanterns. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Milk Jug Ghosts
This is a great project for young children. All you need are clean plastic gallon milk jugs, a black permanent marker, a craft knife and a strand of clear LED holiday lights or a handful of glow sticks.


  1. Remove the label from the milk jug. This step is best completed when the kids aren’t around as it can be tedious. Soaking it in dish soap and water should do the trick
  2. Let your child use the permanent marker to draw ghost eyes and mouths on the jugs. Leave the cap on the jug to prevent the plastic from denting
  3. Cut a hole in the back of the jug large enough to insert the lights. If you’re using holiday lights, you can make a string of ghost lanterns by arranging them in a row and stuffing several bulbs into each jug. If you’re just making one or two ghosts, try putting glow sticks or battery-operated votive candles inside

Tip: You may want to weigh your lantern down with a little sand before inserting the glow sticks or a battery-operated candle.

2. Spooky Eyes
Nothing says creepy like a strand of glowing, blood-shot eyeballs. Line your front yard or porch with these spooky decorations to spook your neighbors and trick-or-treaters.

A strand of large LED lights
A tennis table ball to cover each bulb*
Permanent markers
Craft knife or drill

Tip: Tennis table balls work, but feel free to use small craft paper luminary balls as an alternative.


  1. Use a permanent marker to decorate each ball as an eyeball
  2. Carefully make a hole in the back of each eyeball. You can use a craft knife to cut an “X” or a drill to make a small hole. The hole should be just large enough to insert a single bulb from the strand and snug enough so that the bulb won’t slip off
  3. Stretch out the strands along a walkway or porch

Tip: If you have a vice, use it to hold the balls steady when making the holes. If not, try using an egg carton.

3. Canning Jar Luminaries
Want to add a little color to your front porch or centerpiece? Try decoupaging large canning jars. The project is fun and easy and will really let you express your creativity.

Plastic garbage bag
Items to decorate your lantern, such as construction paper, craft foam, stickers or ribbons
Large canning jars
Decoupage medium (you can make your own by mixing 3/4 cup white glue and 1/4 cup water)
Tissue paper


  1. Begin by protecting your work surface with a plastic garbage bag. Cut out the face or pattern you want out of construction paper or craft foam
  2. Apply medium to the outside of your jar with the paintbrush. Cover the jar with strips of tissue paper. For a more opaque lantern, let the medium dry and then repeat the process. Use your imagination for designs. Try orange for pumpkins, white for ghosts, candy corn stripes or black and orange polka dots
  3. Glue the construction paper cutouts to the lantern using more medium. For a little extra perkiness, try gluing ribbon to the ring of the lid. Insert a tea light or a battery-operated candle and voila: You have a great Halloween lantern

Whichever lantern you choose, you’re sure to enjoy the change of pace. And if you think you’ll miss those salted pumpkin seeds you usually enjoy after Jack-o’-lantern carving? You can buy them in the grocery store.

Shelly is a writer, communications consultant, wife, mother of two and artist. When she's not in her office, she's in her studio with her kids making a really big mess. To find out more about her work visit www.shellyreese.net.


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