Why should the kids have all the fun? Grab your cloak and your wand and get ready to plan an epic, magical Hogwarts at Night event filled with all kinds of ways to immerse yourself in the wizarding world ... from magical classes, to a make-your-own potion bar, a spell duel, a triwizard tournament, and of course, quidditch, butterbeer and chocolate frogs among many other things!
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Author JK Rowling went above and beyond when she described the magical world of wizards and witches in the wildly popular Harry Potter books, which makes our job much easier! We know what Hogwarts should look like, what foods we’d like to try, what activities will thrill our guests … it’s just a matter of planning the flow of the party then collecting and creating the items we need to bring Harry’s world to life.
This is the first post of a two-part series. In total, we’re going to talk about the four elements you’ll need to create an authentic and immersive Hogwarts at Night party, including the decor, the activities, the food and the costuming. This post will cover the decor and activities, and Part 2 will cover the food and the costuming.
Before you even start to think about how you’ll decorate your space, you can set the stage for your event with an “in-game” invitation. The fun of immersive events is helping your guests feel like they’ve become a character in their favorite story. This is not just a regular costume party where everyone just comes over, eats and chats. You are building a world and inviting your friends to join you there for an adventure.
So with a Harry Potter theme you have a fantastic opportunity to get your guests really excited for your event by creating a letter from Hogwarts as the invitation. Look in Book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (page 51) or online to familiarize yourself with the wording of Harry’s letter from McGonagall, then type it up, personalize and print one for each guest. If you’re handy with a graphics program, like PicMonkey, you can even customize your envelopes as well. Make sure to mention that your guests should dress in their Hogwarts robes or house colors, and they should bring their magical pet as well. If you think they’ll be confused by that, you can insert the word "stuffed" as necessary.
Now you can build the magical world of Hogwarts in your own space by combining actual licensed Harry Potter themed items, with general items that suggest a castle, and custom items that you print or make. Let’s take those three categories one at a time.
I’m going to assume that you’re a passionate Harry Potter fan yourself, and as such you are likely to have a few official Potterhead-type items strewn about your abode. Collect all your wands, your house scarves, that sorting hat you got for your birthday and the empty pumpkin juice bottle you brought home from Universal Studios. Those are going to be your featured items.
Then scour your house for items that are similar to items mentioned in the books. Maybe you don’t have a licensed Hedwig figure, but you can put your hands on a stuffed white owl and just tell everyone it’s Hedwig. Now collect things that all the wizards had, like a trunk and a broom, and maybe some old books.
Next, look for things that can suggest a medieval castle – things like candles or lanterns, a pewter punch bowl or tapestries. Whatever you have. Keep an open mind as you survey all the random things in your house. Think “what could I do with this?” … maybe when you see an old birdcage you might think aha! I can put Cornish Pixies in here like Gilderoy Lockheart did in Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets.
And speaking of Professor Lockheart, that brings me to my next category of decorative items – your printables. If you want house crests to mark different rooms as common rooms, or Umbridge’s proclamations to hang on the wall, you can grab those off the internet and print them out. You can print photos of Hogwarts professors and frame them and set them in different “classrooms”, or you can print out Harry’s Hogwarts envelopes and tie them together with fishing line and drape them near your fireplace. You can even print out autographed copies of Gilbert’s headshot to hand out as favors. Wherever you have space to fill in amongst your 3-D decorations, think about adding some printables to round out the look.
And the last category of decorations is the items you can make yourself. Start collecting interesting-shaped bottles that you can turn into potion bottles with labels that you print from the internet.
You can fill these with water tinted with food coloring. Or grab some battery-operated votive candles that you can wrap white paper around and hang from the ceiling to mimic the Great Hall. You have a lot of options, and Pinterest in particular is chock full of DIY ideas and instructions. BUT before you spend weeks of your life creating a huge array of custom decorations, first decide which of your rooms you’ll be using, and how you’ll be using them. If you’re thinking about creating a Great Hall in your dining room, but there’s no way to hang candles from your dining room ceiling, you don’t want to waste time making candles that you then can’t use.
Think about how your party will flow and that will help you see more clearly what spaces you’ll need to use. You’ll need a welcome space where you greet your guests and set the stage for the evening. You’ll need activity spaces, both for the classes that your guests wander in and out of at their leisure, and for the group activities where you’ll need to fit everyone in one space all at the same time. You’ll also need to think about where you’ll be putting your food – do you have space for one large buffet table, or do you need to spread the food around into several rooms on small tables … and will you be having a bar set up – and is that with a server or are the guests helping themselves?
Now as you think it through, “ok I’ll put the food in the kitchen and the living room and the tv room can be classrooms” you can better see what those rooms are meant to represent. Your Hogwarts map is becoming visible. “So that makes the kitchen the Great Hall, and the living room can be the Potions classroom” Now look at what connector spaces you have between those featured spaces and think about what those spots can represent. Maybe your back hall where your coat closet is can become Platform 9 ¾ , and your bathroom can be Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Get creative! You can have a Dungeon and common rooms, and Dumbledore’s office and even the Room of Requirement. It all depends on what your house looks like and how all your rooms connect to each other. Once you’ve decided what rooms you’re creating, then you’ll really know what kinds of decorations you need to create to fill in the gaps between the items you were able to collect, so that each of your rooms has a little something in it to visually tie it to its name.
And, as I mention to you in all my how-to posts, you don’t need to spend a lot of money buying special decorations to create atmosphere at your immersive event. Use what you already have in a deliberate, targeted way. That means You want to group your items together for a stronger effect. In each of your rooms, set up a still life on a table or in a corner that includes a lot of your general castle items, and one or two of your featured items. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of your special things this way, and lo and behold, your house is now truly your castle!
To make your event more than just a gathering of people who happen to be wearing Harry Potter robes, you’ll be planning specific themed activities for your guests to participate in during the evening. It’s these activities that will elevate your party from “that was fun” to “oMg I just spent the night at Hogwarts!”
Your evening will start informally, with free-flowing movement from room to room, where you’ll encourage your guests to wander around and participate in whichever activities grab their fancy. This loosens everyone up and calms the people who are not participatory by nature. Everyone gets to partake at their own pace. The food and drink are also spread around which will force people to circulate and prevent the shy ones from anchoring themselves in one spot and missing out on the fun.
Then later in the evening, after everyone is warmed up and feeling comfortable, you’ll gather them all together to do a few “all-school” activities that will really get everyone laughing and feeling part of a magical group.
The party starts when the guests walk through the door. As you know, when new students arrive at Hogwarts, they participate in the Sorting Ceremony. After you greet each guest, and admire their costume, invite them to be sorted. Many of your guests will already know what house they’re in (or want to be in), but you can get around that by saying “let’s just see if the Sorting Hat confirms your house” If you happen to have a Sorting Hat, obviously you’ll use that - stand behind the guest while they wear the hat and say astute things like “brave, capable, loyal … Gryffindor!” Print up a cheat sheet of traits that indicate each house and keep it up your sleeve. If you don’t have a sorting hat, you can download and print out an origami sorter to use instead -- these are those foldables that used to be known as cootie catchers or fortune tellers.
This will happen over and over, as people trickle in, since the guests won’t arrive all at once. You’ll welcome each new group to Hogwarts, give them a quick rundown of what’s in the house and where to find it, then encourage them to wander around and enjoy themselves. If you have the time and inclination, you can even make a map of your space and label it like Hogwarts, complete with footprints like the Marauder’s Map.
Now, what IS in your Hogwarts house? Classrooms, of course! Everyone is here to learn to harness their magical powers and become powerful wizards! You can set up any number of magical classrooms, depending on how much space you’re working with. Today we’ll talk about activities for five popular Hogwarts classes: Charms, Divination, Potions, History of Magic and Defense Against the Dark Arts. You can choose your favorites, or just use these as inspiration and design your own.
In Charms class, young wizards learn to cast spells, and what do you need to cast a spell? A wand, of course! At your party, the charms classroom will be set up with all the supplies your guests will need to make their own wands right on the spot. You’ll need wooden dowels or chopsticks, hot glue guns, paint and paintbrushes, paper plates to pour the paint onto, and either marbles or little rhinestones for the ends. Be sure to cover the workspace with a plastic tablecloth, collect a few extension cords for those glue guns, and you might want to set up a little sign just reminding people not to touch the glue or the tip of the gun -- not everyone is aware of how hot those get. You’ll also need to set up a spot with some old newspaper for the wands to dry, and it’s not a bad idea to put out a little bowl of handiwipes for people who get paint on their hands. To make sure this activity runs smoothly, you can either have a friend oversee this station and show people how to make the wand, or you can print up instructions and leave a few samples around.
In Divination class, Professor Trelawny taught her students how to see the future, in particular by reading tea leaves. Your Divination classroom will be set up so each guest can pour themselves a cup of looseleaf tea, drain the liquid, then compare the residual tea leaves to a chart of symbols to see what lies in their future. You’ll need teacups, an electric tea kettle or a pot of hot water, a bowl of looseleaf tea, a strainer and a large container to take the strained water, and your symbol chart. This is another class where it will be helpful to have a friend oversee the proceedings, specifically to help safely drain the hot water, and to help people “see” the similarities between their lump of wet tea and the images on the chart. You might want to promise these helpful friends some extra chocolate frogs at the end of the night :)
Now for Potions class you have two options. You can choose to make this another crafting activity, where you let your guests put together one of these adorable potion necklaces, or you can set up your BAR as a make your own potion station, and let guests create their own drinks by combining pitchers of ingredients with magical names. Which option you choose will really depend on the preferences of your particular guests. If you decide to make this a crafting activity, you can buy these cute bottle necklaces at Michael’s or on Amazon. You’ll set out clear glue and glitter to put inside them -- and again, don’t forget to cover your workspace with a plastic tablecloth. Or if you decide to go the make your own potion route, set up pitchers of different colored ingredients and make labels for them with a magical name in large print, and the actual ingredient in small print below. You can call these things like Mermaid Tears or Dragon’s Blood, and you aren’t limited to just liquid ingredients. You can set out little bowls of powders like KoolAid mix, or solid add-ins like cranberries or garnishes like whipped cream or sprinkles. Just look up the Harry Potter wiki for inspiration for naming your ingredients. You can let your guests mix their own, or set out recipes that actually result in something that tastes good and put some measuring implements out and let them follow the recipe.
Your History of Magic class is actually a trivia game in disguise. Type up a bunch of questions and number them. Cut them into individual strips, then fold and mix them up in a bowl. Type up a separate list of numbered answers for the friend who’ll be helping out in this classroom. As guests come in, they’ll be challenged to choose a random question from the bowl. Each time they answer correctly, they can choose another question, up to a maximum of 10 questions. If they answer incorrectly, they must stop. The game host will keep a tally of how many correct answers each guest got, and at the end of the night you can announce the winners and potentially give them a prize.
Finally, we have everyone’s favorite class, Defense Against the Dark Arts. For this activity you’ll need a friend to play the role of their favorite DADA professor, and they’ll be showing your guests how to resist an imperious curse by actually showing them a self defense technique. There’s a simple method for escaping from someone who has grabbed your two wrists. Your helper will demonstrate this technique, then pretend to cast the Imperious curse, grab the guest’s wrists, and invite them to test out the new escape move they just learned. When they do this successfully, they earn some chocolate, which as everyone knows is also the antidote to the presence of Dementors!
If you have space, you can also set up some non-academic activities. You can create a Pensive in Dumbledore’s office where guests can look back at some of their favorite memories at Hogwarts. Fill a large punch bowl with water and get some of these plastic balls from Amazon. Type up a list of events that happened to Harry and his friends, in the format of I remember when ___ blank. Like “That time I ran into Buckbeak in the forest”, "The day I ate a vomit flavored Bertie Bott’s Bean", "My first trip to Fred & George’s joke shop", things like that. Cut them up into strips, fold one into each plastic ball, and float them in the water. Each guest can fish out one ball, then open it and read it aloud and continue the thought by ad-libbing their own memory of the event. So someone might open up “that time I got knocked out by a Bludger”, then go “oh yeah, then I fell off my broom and broke my collarbone and woke up in the infirmary”.... Now when you combine this activity with a photo booth that you’ve set up, you have something special. Have the guests standing in front of your themed background when they reminisce so you can take their picture or even a video while they’re acting out their memory - which makes for a funnier and more dynamic pose.
You also have the option of setting up a Quidditch game with cups, hoops and ping pong balls, that you can actually turn into a drinking game if you have that kind of a crowd. Just remember as the host of any party where you’re serving alcohol, it’s up to you to keep an eye out for people who shouldn’t drive at the end of the night.
Give everyone about an hour, hour and a half, to meander through all the classrooms, try out the activities and pop into the kitchen or dining room for food & drinks - the exact amount of time depends on how many activities you end up planning. Then circulate around and announce that Professor Dumbledore has called an All-School Assembly. It’s time for your group activities.
I’m going to give you two fun options that your whole group can enjoy together. Let’s talk about a Spell Duel and a Triwizard tournament.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, three wizarding schools compete in a series of challenges to see who will earn the Triwizard Cup. At your event, your guests will divide into three teams and do the same, except their challenges won’t be so dangerous. No dragons, or drowning, or mysterious portkeys to cemeteries. Your challenges will be fun things like holding a plank, moving jelly beans from one plate to another using only chopsticks, or walking balancing a book on their head (you get to decide). You’ll need to set up stations for each challenge and have a monitor at each one to keep track of the score, then each team takes a turn at each station and after everyone has completed all three, add up the scores and congratulate the winning team. You could potentially offer the winners a little prize, like a Harry Potter bookmark or a little Hedwig stuffie, but they’ll probably be more excited about special food, like chocolate frogs or little boxes of Bertie Botts Beans.
And lastly, the duel. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Malfoy duel in front of the school using their wands, casting spells at each other both on offense and defense. This duel will be a variation on rock paper scissors, and will use an elimination format. Only three spells may be thrown - expelliarmus, expecto patronum, and stupefy. Expelliarmus beats expecto patronum, expecto patronum beats stupefy, and stupefy beats expelliarmus. Divide your guests into two teams - each team can decide what house they represent. Have the teams stand opposite each other, with a referee in the middle. Each team will send a dueler forward, and the two wizards will have three chances to throw spells. Just like in rock paper scissors, one person’s spell will beat the other’s, the referee will keep track of points, and the first wizard to three wins moves to the “champion’s circle.” Ties are thrown out. Repeat the process until everyone has dueled, then have the champions on each side duel amongst themselves, eliminating losers until each team has one champion. The two opposing champions duel each other, on behalf of their team, with five or even seven opportunities to throw spells so there’s lots of opportunity for cheering and suspense, until there’s one clear winner and their team receives the Hogwarts house cup. This is a great activity to end the night on. Lead all the guests to the bar and everyone can celebrate their win or drown their sorrows if they lost.
I've given you a lot to think about, so start making notes for your party, and come back when you've freed up some brain space for Part Two, where we’ll talk about your themed food and drinks, and the fantastic costumes you can create!