"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Magic of Harry Potter--A Birthday Party

My kids are lousy sleepers, and have been from birth. Two-thirds of them are lousy eaters. Three for three are emotional and dramatic and highly sensitive. They keep me up at night with my never-ending worry for their health, identities, and futures. I love them, as I told them tonight, even more than Lily loves Harry, but they're high maintenance little beasties. 

There is one thing, however, that has always come easy for us. I don't take it for granted (because I know it's a big one), but let me brag here just for a minute: my kids are Awesome Readers. Book lovers from birth. 

They're constantly with a book in hand, often stealing away to their bunks in the afternoon for some post-school free reading. They collect books like other kids collect sports memorabilia and their own personal library cards are among their most prized possessions (no late fees for kids!). As a book lover myself, this brings me endless joy. Especially, especially, when it was finally time for me to introduce my three best buds to the best of the best: Harry Potter.

I waited as long as I possibly could: Evan had just finished first grade when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone aloud to them. It was a hit, and we quickly moved on to book two. Halfway through the book, Max stopped me as I opened it one night. "I think we'd better stop," my sensitive little soul said to me. "I think I need to wait until I'm older to finish these books. They're...pretty intense." 

Evan couldn't have been more thrilled, as this meant that he was no longer beholden to family read alouds to finish the series. He tore through the rest of the seven books during the first half of second grade. He enjoyed them, but it wasn't the love affair that I had hoped it would be. He never wanted to just sit and discuss the intricacies and complexities of the Potterverse. He had no interest in dissecting Snape's ever-present and unrequited love for Lily. He didn't even want to commiserate over a shared revulsion to "that Umbridge woman," a character nearly as loathsome as Voldemort himself. 

I wondered if I gave the books to him too soon...but I don't think so. I think Evan just doesn't connect emotionally to books in the same way that I do...instead, Evan reads for information. He collects facts, organizes historical events, and commits specific details and figures to permanent memory. In order to have some meaty HP convos, I would need to wait for Max to catch up. 

And catch up he did...this summer. Max picked up book two right where we left off three summers ago. That was July 20th. By the end of September, he had torn through the series and was working his way through Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Tales of Beedle the Bard

Max was hooked. There were Harry Potter socks and tee shirts and wands. There were homemade spell books and hours and hours of magical pretend play. My brother's partner, David, gave Max (and Evan and Molly, too) his collection of hundreds of Harry Potter trading cards. Max studied every card until he knew every minute magical detail of dozens of characters, creatures, items, spells, and potions...then he re-read the books until he knew where and when in the storyline these creatures, items, spells, and potions appeared.

And then, my dream of dreams came true...Max asked for a Harry Potter birthday party.

Why, yes. Those are floating golden snitches over the party table!

I've said it before but this time I mean it: This was my very favorite birthday party to plan and throw, ever. 

We started, as one does, with a Sorting Hat ceremony.

I found these cute Sorting Hat Ceremony origami fortune tellers, which were perfect. Each witch or wizard hopped up on the stool, wore the special hat, and had their House selected by the very official origami fortune teller. Once everyone was sorted, the kids had a chance to fold their own Sorting Hat fortune teller to take home with them.

Next stop, obviously, was Ollivander's Wand Shop!

Uncle Will and David played the part of Ollivander(s) while Evan served as their apprentice. The Ollivanders asked each party guest, one at a time, a question....favorite animal, favorite food, etc. They would then present an official Ollivander's Wand Shop wand box, acquired on their trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which Evan had secretly filled with one of the wands we had made prior to the party. 

I'm so thankful to have so many brothers and sisters nearby on birthday party days. Will and David were the perfect Ollivander(s). I've heard from friends since the party who say the their kids are STILL talking about their "phoenix-feather wand" or wand "of the dragon heart string." 

To make the wands, I just covered bamboo chopsticks in a thin layer of mod podge in different designs...sometimes just on the tip, sometimes a swirl or stripes the length of the chopstick, then added glitter in various colors. Once dry, I applied more mod podge to keep the glitter from ending up all over my house. I found these awesome twisty chopsticks which really made them special.

After the Sorting Hat and Ollivander's Wand Shop, it was a choose-your-own-adventure kind of party.

The Owl Post

On mini parchments, kids could write a letter to their favorite Harry Potter character with quill pens that I MADE MYSELF! After writing their letters, the kids rolled their parchments, tied them with a red bow, and left them in the basket for Hedwig to deliver after the party.

Care of Magical Creatures

At this station, the kids had to feed Hagrid's very hungry dragons...

We had cardboard dragons from a game Max played a few years ago. We named each dragon after a dragon in the Harry Potter series, then assigned each dragon a favorite food color... the Chinese Fireball only eats RED HOT cherries, for example...and the Norwegian Ridgeback only eats ORANGE pumpkins.

The game was to try to toss the correct color pompom into each dragon's food bowl. This was a last minute addition, but one that the kids kept coming back to throughout the party.

Charms Lessons

I didn't get a picture of this one in action because it was complete pandemonium in the basement where this lesson took place....with their newly acquired wands and a plethora of ready and waiting balloons, the little wizards were free to practice the charm Wingardium Leviosa! (The levitating charm.) Let's just say there was more popping than levitating happening in this lesson (popping and then screaming because of the popping).

Make a Snitch

A simple, independent craft, the kids made golden snitches using these gold glitter foam balls and white feathers.

Spell Books

For this activity, each party guest was given a list of spells and charms and a Book of Spells. The spellbook contained situations in which you, a Hogwarts student, needed to use a particular spell or charm in order to successfully get through your day. Kids could use the list of spells and charms to find the correct magic words for each situation.

Some kids took this activity VERY seriously. It was hilarious to see the kids who would NOT leave this activity until the entire Book of Spells was complete...and checked for accuracy. 

Potions Class

To set the scene, Max filled glass jars and bottles with glitter and water, then labeled them with the  names of potions from the books (like Polyjuice Potion) or from his own imagination (like Fatigi Potion).

While they were waiting for the guided lesson portion of Potions Class, they could pretend to mix their own potion concoctions in the cauldron (which was a water bead sensory bin).

But the highlight of this station was the potions lesson, taught by none other than Luna Lovegood (Max's Aunt Emily). 

Three students at a time were instructed to place two scoops of crushed bezoar (baking soda) into their cauldrons, then tap their cauldrons twice with their wands before adding Doxy Tears (vinegar) to create their own unique potion. 

What the kids didn't know (and what made it magical...) was that before the kids got to the station, Professor Lovegood had secretly added a few drops of food coloring to each cauldron...a different color for each cauldron). The students added the same ingredients to their cauldrons, but each potion bubbled up a different color.

Pure magic.

When the witches and wizards grew hungry after their afternoon of magical lessons, it was time to come together in the Great Hall (decked out in the colors of Max's Hogwarts House, Ravenclaw).

Big thanks to our amazing neighbor for letting us borrow these perfectly authentic cast iron cauldrons for snacks!

The cake!

Notice the buttercream frosting (which is NOT homemade fondant). The glasses and lightning bolts are fondant...but of the store-bought variety. 

Lesson Learned:

I love, love, love Harry Potter. 
I love, love, love putting on birthday parties for my kids.
I love, love, love this 8-year old.

This party was one for the history books....

Pure magic.


  1. A friend introduced me to Potter way back when there were only three books out. I chewed up each one after that as it came out. J did too. D, like Max, felt that they were a bit too scary just yet. He's 10 now and hasn't come back to them, but he is gobbling up Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series on my kindle.

    Super party, though. No idea how you do it: we find birthday parties exhausting and overwhelming, so we tend to head out to the swimming pool instead...

    1. Oooh! We'll have to check out the Tiffany Aching series! I'm not familiar with it. Children's birthday parties are the only time my deeply hidden inner extrovert pops out for a quick minute. :)

    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiffany_Aching

      Needless to say, I am very much enjoying the books too... ;)

  2. We attended an event here this past Sunday & had an awesome experience from beginning to end. They served great food and the salad I had for dinner was delicious. The service at event space Chicago also was impeccable.