Over the weekend, Ruthie and I attended a local event called Faeries, Sprites, and Lights at the Minnetrista Cultural Center in Muncie. I had never been able to attend this annual event before, but I went with some of my siblings and their kids, all of whom have attended in the past.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but here’s what I learned: The event is held two evenings in a row. Children are encouraged to dress as either fairies or sprites–sprites being the male counterpart to fairies. The property, which is wooded and lined with red brick pathways, is decorated with flowers, balls of tulle hanging from trees, strings of lights, and little tiny “fairy houses” tucked away in the grass, trees, woods, and gardens. It’s pretty adorable to watch little girls and boys running through the gardens shouting, “I found a fairy carousel!” and, “Look! Another tiny fairy house!”

Volunteers and employees are everywhere, facilitating everything from craft tables and theatrical performances to percussion circles and a bubble garden. We bought popcorn and cookies from the snack station.

As a default, I tend to be a little skeptical of highly gendered children’s activities. How does a princess party feel to a little girl who doesn’t want to be a princess? What about a boy who wants to join in–is he welcomed and invited? Are girls included at the Cars or Monster Truck themed birthday party? When we create events and activities for kids and label those events “boy activities” and “girl activities,” what messages are we sending?

At first glance, Faeries, Sprites, and Lights could be the kind of event that makes me raise my eyebrows and wonder if we’re telling boys and girls they’re supposed to act a certain way. But despite the fact that the grounds are overrun mostly by little girls in fairy costumes, I didn’t find that the event itself excluded girls who might not want to get dressed up or boys who do. The activities were diverse enough that they didn’t all carry with them strong gendered associations that are all in our heads anyway. My nephew Alex, who is five, wore an adorable little sprite costume, including green wings, and I saw lots of other little boys in a variety of costumes. Whether or not a kid chose to dress up, she or he could play with bubbles, color, watch a play, dance, bang on a drum, and search the woods for hidden fairy houses.

I also have an appreciation for the fact that this is a celebration of a famous woman resident of Muncie, Indiana–Elisabeth Ball, the daughter of George A. Ball. If you’re from Muncie, you’re familiar with the Ball Brothers, who went into business together and formed the Ball Corporation. You don’t have to be from Muncie to know about Ball Glass and their famous canning jars. There’s also Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital (where I was born). The Ball Brothers are probably the most famous historical figures to many Muncie residents. Meanwhile, it’s hard to name even one or two well-known women in Muncie history. An event that is connected to a woman from the 1880s whose name is still known to a significant number of Muncie residents? That’s worth taking note of.

Faeries, Sprites, and Lights is held in Ms. Ball’s honor because it commemorates  her childhood belief that there were fairies in the woods where she grew up and where the event is now held. I don’t know much about her except that she had a pretty incredible dollhouse that is on display at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and she became a philanthropist.

Reading a little bit about Ms. Ball has made me realize that I don’t know enough about the women in my hometown’s history. I’m going to make a point of learning more.

And I’ll definitely go back to Faeries, Sprites, and Lights next year, especially because Ruthie can’t wait to go back to “fairy night.”

Here is a gallery of beautiful images of my daughter and some of her cousins at the event. All of these photos are taken by my incredible photographer sister, Karen Karki.

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