Christmas at Hogwarts

This year, our Christmas gift for the kids was the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, which is one of the most completely gorgeous books I’ve ever seen. The illustrations are astonishingly beautiful. JC read it to them (I did some of the reading, but they liked his Hagrid voice better). We also checked out the audio book from the library, to enjoy while running errands, and we let them watch the movie. The current plan is to insist to them that we can’t do book 2 yet because “Harry Potter is a Christmas thing!” and “Harry only gets to go to Platform 9 3/4 once a year, and so do you.” We’re trying to space it out, because doing Chamber of Secrets with a 5- and 7-year-old is probably okay, I don’t think they’re ready for Prisoner of Azkaban, let alone what follows.

They LOVED it, because how could they not?

A few years ago, Mom and Gary took the kids to see The Polar Express and then for Christmas, they created a Polar Express dinner party, where Gary was the conductor and punched everyone’s tickets and they served food from a dozen different countries. The kids LOVED it, and they still talk about it. They’ve asked them to do it again several times. So this year, they offered to do a Harry Potter dinner. And they thoroughly outdid themselves. When people say they think my ridiculous birthday parties are kind of over-the-top, all I can say is that they should see the kind of stuff my mom gets up to. This is a prime example.

The madness began with individual letters to each of us (well, my owl was somehow waylaid and I got my letter afterward, but everyone else…). The kids were over the moon, although they also are big enough to read a calendar and guessed that this had something to do with Christmas at Grammy’s house.

I happened to mention that years ago, when I was in college, I babysat two girls about their age who got a Harry Potter correspondence course, allowing them to attend Hogwarts remotely (which may or may not have been devised and sent by me, ahem). “Like in Bedknobs and Broomsticks?” they said. Silas told me, “As much as I think it would be cool to go to a wizard school, I’d rather do the correspondence course because I like living at home with you.” Yep, even for wizarding he wants to be homeschooled.

On Friday night, we visted a light display at a park and decorated the Christmas tree, which the kids enjoyed, but they kept asking, “When are we doing Harry Potter??” The next evening was the big event.

Mom and Gary had the house decorated for both Christmas and Hogwarts. Petra and Silas helped contribute to the decorations by making potions (glitter-glue-water bottles). Mom and Gary also had one of those projectors that most people use to throw moving light on the outside of their house. They put it in the living room, which is why my photos all have green sparkles all over them. The effect was pretty magical.

Gary even made a bubbling cauldron with dry ice. Petra and Silas were entranced. Honestly, everyone found the smoke kind of irresistible to play with.

For someone who hasn’t read Harry Potter in a decade, Mom came up with some fun details, including an “invisibility cloak.”

Mom had borrowed a Sorting Hat from a counselor friend (“She uses it to ‘sort’ the kids into their class schedules”–counselors are so fun and weird), and they had a sorting ceremony. Gary had recorded himself reading the Sorting Hat’s poem and then several tracks declaring “You belong in Hufflepuff!” or whatever. He wore a wizard’s robe, hiding his phone inside it, and used it to send the tracks to his Bluetooth speaker, which was by Mom, across the room, where she was performing the ceremony. The effect was fantastic and quite believable. The day before, the kids and I had been talking about the various houses, and they had decided that Petra was a Ravenclaw and Silas was a Hufflepuff. “We’d rather be Gryffindor, but this is more realistic,” Silas said of their determination. They were quite excited when the Hat sorted them into Gryffindor, although by the end of the evening, aka practically bedtime, Petra was sobbing that she wanted to be in Ravenclaw with me, and Silas, a couple days later, said he redid the sorting in his own private ceremony, and came out as definitely Hufflepuff, “because they like board games, fires, and tea.” The final count from the official sorting was one Hufflepuff (Mom’s friend Lucy), two Ravenclaws (Alex’s girlfriend Tiara and me), two Slytherins (JC and Alex), and two Gryffindors (the kids). The kids were pretty baffled that Alex and JC were so excited to be in Slytherin. “Dad’s not really…evil, right?” Silas asked. “I mean, not really evil.”

After we were sorted, we had to choose our wands (or let the wands choose us). Mom made these incredible wands out of paper, hot glue, beads, and chopsticks. They were so gorgeous.

Once we had wands, we all kept ambushing each other with spells, the body-bind curse being especially popular.

Cursed!

As if all that wasn’t enough, as we sat down to dinner, we heard a knock at the door. Mom and Gary have couch surfers constantly, so when the door opened and a couple walked in with various bags, I assumed that was what was going on. I briefly wondered where they would sleep.

And then I recognized them–they were magicians who were friends of Gary’s. He had hired them to stop by and do some magic tricks. He brought along his bunny and his dove (which he’s worked with for an astonishing 12 years!), as well as lots of wand-related tricks. The kids had seen his show over the summer, but even though they remembered the tricks, they still loved his show.

Although, after he left, Petra whispered to me that she thought he was “not really magic, but more of a humbug magician.” Thanks, Wizard of Oz!

Dinner included pumpkin juice, “frog soup” (which Petra wouldn’t try although we assured her it wasn’t really frogs), “pigeon pot pie” (chicken, we had to assure the children quietly), and “snakes” (green beans). Silas eagerly ate it all, but Petra was still a little concerned that it might be strange creatures.

The next morning, we opened presents together. After the Harry Potter madness, that phase felt like almost an afterthought. The kids got some cool stuff–they’re both still very excited about the Pokemon LEGOs and remote-controlled T. Rex that Alex and Tiara got them–but the part they’ll remember in a few years is definitely the magical Harry Potter dinner party.

Tiara asked Alex and me if Christmas was like this when we were kids. Thinking she meant in terms of gifts, we both kind of shrugged and said yes, more or less. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized, oh, maybe she meant with the magician… 🙂

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