NEW YORK - When is a pumpkin not a pumpkin? When it's a jack-o-lantern, sure, but Halloween's jolly orange elf can be so much more.
"For me, it's like my favorite time of year when you see them out in the marketplace," said Marcie McGoldrick, editorial director of holiday and crafts for Martha Stewart Living magazine.
Whether outside or at a party, pumpkins are an "icon of the season that people really try to transform every year," she said. "It's always fun to see what people do."
Some ultra-easy ways to show off pumpkins:
Decorate butternut squash like bowling pins and set them up on grass to entertain kids. Arm your young guests with a smaller variety, sugar pumpkins, leaving the stems on for easy slinging down the "lane," McGoldrick suggests. "The stems are really strong and make it easy for kids, and the pumpkins will still roll." Another good kid game: pumpkin leap frog, she said.
Cut a carving pumpkin open about a third down from the stem, or wide enough to accommodate wine, beer and soda. Clean and insert a plastic or glass bowl to prevent leakage or softening as ice melts. Carve out toothy jags around the lip for effect. You can paint the pumpkin ghostly white or spooky black and adorn with store-bought webs crawling with faux spiders. Fill with ice.
Rather than cut, scoop and fill with ice, how about cutting, scooping and poking in your favorite seasonal flowers? Try orange Chinese lantern flowers. Or go for scary flourishes like faux and snakes wending through wilty blood red roses. Fill with dirt and use a pumpkin as a planter that can go straight into the ground after a few days on Halloween duty. Arrange small pumpkins, colorful gourds, Indian corn and crunchy leaves in a windowbox.
Pumpkin candle holders
Pumpkins are often set alight by votive candles, but try poking holes and turning them into candlesticks. It's especially festive later this year for American Jews who want to turn their pumpkins into nine-candle menorahs: Thanksgiving falls on the night for lighting Hanukkah's second candle. Or cut out the stem and nestle a little tea candle in the crook of an uncut pumpkin. Find a tall, narrow one and add an inexpensive glass hurricane top to be lit by a votive candle.
Pumpkin bird feeders
Why should humans have all the pumpkin fun? Create bird feeders by poking holes along the pumpkin's sides for hanging with rope by a tree branch, or just leave one sitting on a fence post. Scoop and cut a wide hole or scoop, clean and cut smaller holes with perches. Any seed and any size would work.
Live in deer country? They'd appreciate a pumpkin, too.