Anyone with a kid who is into the Harry Potter books (and movies too I suppose, but less so) will know how important the 11th birthday is. To the uninformed, it’s the age at which you receive your letter to Hogwarts. It’s a VERY important time in the life of a young witch or wizard, and the perfect time to throw a Harry Potter party for a birthday kid.
We don’t do elaborate birthday parties in our house or out at venues, and we’ve always been happy with some carefully curated activities, good food, and a small group of kids who enjoy things at that speed. With an upcoming 11th, I agreed to kick it up a notch (actually many notches!) in the party department and it’s possible I had just as much fun as the birthday kid planning and delivering this Harry Potter party.
I like to keep things on the cheap wherever possible and my food philosophy of maximum effect for minimum effort applies here too. I had to set realistic expectations with the birthday kid while still making everything awesome. She did a lot of the prep herself, and the only pre-done thing I bought was a $3 package of house-themed napkins. Certainly you can buy all sorts of HP-themed things but that’s expensive, and not my style. The important part is to pick the elements that make the best Harry Potter party for you, because if you’re not careful you’ll fall down the rabbit hole of ideas!
To simulate the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall of Hogwarts of course! This was accomplished by finding LED tapers in a 2-pack from Dollar Tree (Dollarama didn’t have them). They were $1.25 for the pair, but did not include AAA batteries, and I got five sets. They did come with stand up bases though, so when not in use as ceiling decorations they could do double duty during a power outage or other for kid play. Fancy restaurant perhaps?
My light fixture over the dining room table just happened to work really well to string up the tapers, but I got lucky. You will need to think carefully about how to hang them. I used thread, and had to tie knots at the ends, and then tape the thread to the taper. The knot prevented the thread from sliding through the tape. The floating candles was a simple element, but was my favourite Harry Potter party decoration.
I scoured the land for a brick tablecloth, shower curtain, or fabric. I did eventually find a vinyl brick backdrop at a party supply store but it was $25 and that was not happening. The amount of time I spent visiting various stores far outweighed how much time it eventually took me to make my own. I should have given up much sooner and accepted the inevitable.
I bought a tan fabric curtain panel from Dollarama for $4, and then used a rectangular sponge, an aluminium tray, and brown and red acrylic paint to stamp a brick pattern on the curtain. I just eyeballed the pattern. Put down a plastic tablecloth on the floor underneath the curtain, as otherwise the paint would absolutely have soaked through to my floor. The panel was only about 4-5’ across, so in the end I decided not to cut a slit up the middle for kids to walk through.
My genius idea to hang the brick curtain worked marvellously though. I wedged a tension curtain rod (borrowed from my guest bathroom) into the door frame on the outside of my house. Then I propped a borrowed Platform 9 ¾ sign up into the window above it, so guests arriving had to walk through. It was great, and set a fun tone for the party. Make sure your curtain rod will collapse down to the proper width of your doorframe. Full sized rods intended for regularly sized bathtubs are probably too big. Dollar stores will likely have something smaller.
Potions class was the focus of the Harry Potter party and the kids who attended loved it. We’d actually planned for more activities (house-themed minute-to-win-it games for the house cup) but never got around to it because the kids were so into the potions! Dollarama had sets of small glass bottles and jars with corks, in the craft department (sets of 5-6 for $2, score!). I wanted some larger and interestingly shaped bottles though. Michaels did have some great sets in the wedding department, but they were $25 a dozen and I couldn’t use a coupon.
I decided to take my chances at thrift shops to find one larger jar per kid, and it was pretty easy to find suitable jars and bottles for $0.50 or $1 each. A bag of corks was found to stopper those jars and bottles that didn’t come with them.
Potion ingredients were easy, and were a mixture of household things: cornmeal, wild rice, loose tea I didn’t plan to drink, poppy seeds that I’d had in my pantry for forever, etc. These common items, combined with some fancier things like gold flake found in the craft section at Dollarama, made for some fun concoctions. I also provided some greenery from the floral section.
The potion labels I made myself (see free printable here – note the two sizes depending on the size of the bottles). The kids used their imaginations around what was what, and glued them on. It was not up to me to decide what dittany or wormwood looked like!
If you have the time and patience and want to try resin for a permanent liquid look then my suggestion is to have an extra adult dedicated to this job. Be prepared in advance, and set up a little away from the main craft area. Use the resin in small quantities only in the small bottles. I used a coupon at Michaels and got a small box of 2-part resin for about $15. It was called Envirotex and was in the glue section. It is typically used to put a hard clear coating on a table top, for example. One small box worked for about 6 of the small vials, and then one larger bottle finished off the batch. The resin hardens with a chemical reaction, and it heats up as it works, so it’s not for kids to do. Wear goggles and gloves.
Using small paper cups and a popsicle stick I mixed the two parts together, mixed in glitter, and poured the resin into the glass jar. For kids who chose paint, I added a drop directly into the glass jar and had them swirl it with a skewer. Use paint very sparingly and only stir slightly if you want the retain the look of translucent liquid. Fine glitter worked the best, but it all tended to settle towards the bottom of the jar.
The one larger jar shown here contains resin and what I think is crushed glass – it was a Dollarama find. If you don’t want your kids playing with crushed glass then you can use the resin to lock it in place while still allowing the lid to be removed. Another solution would be to permanently glue on the lids or corks. Depends on the ages of the kids and what the intended use is.
No Harry Potter party would be complete without a few decorations. The birthday kid and her sister made most of these, with some printable help from me.
Hedwig balloons: blow up white balloons and decorate with owl faces. Add a beak in yellow if you have a yellow sharpie. We didn’t bother with helium but a mixture of brown and white balloons floating around the table would be cute.
Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans: We had some actual beans from a trip to Universal, but regular jelly beans would be fine too. We used white boxes from the wedding favour section of Dollar Tree, and made a label that we glued on. These were given out at the end of the party.
Golden Snitches: we used Ferrero Rocher, and added feathers with hot glue. The birthday kid decided to paint the feathers gold with acrylic paint, but whether you want to do that or not might depend on what colour they were to start with. I wanted sturdy feathers and found chocolate brown ones at Dollarama. I’ve also seen white feathers with just the tips painted gold and they were cute too.
Wands: My kids have been making wands for years and so we had a stockpile of extras. Use sturdy chopsticks and apply hot glue in a pleasing way to add shape and thickness. Once it cools it can be painted. Include marbles, beads, wire, or whatever else to bedazzle it…remember, the wand chooses the wizard! The birthday kid wrote descriptions of each wand (length, type of wood, what the core was), and they went on the table as place settings.
We decided our Harry Potter party didn’t have to have a themed meal but if you wanted to there is a fun HP cookbook you could reference.
We did pull off a great cake, just as Hagrid gave to Harry on the stormy night of his birthday, but do note that the book version has it frosted in chocolate, and the movie has it frosted in pink – both include green icing for the words, but the spelling varies. If your kid cares about which version to be true to make sure to have that conversation in advance! This was just a two-layer chocolate cake, so pick your favourite recipe or box of cake mix and do it up.
I found some great free printables for Harry Potter party-themed drinks but they were intended for 2L pop bottles and so I had to cut them down for the smaller bottles I had. We used root beer in place of Butterbeer and added vanilla ice cream and whipped cream to make a float. “Real” Butterbeer is awful, in my opinion — all three versions (frosted, cold, and hot).
We made a pumpkin juice concoction out of apple juice, pumpkin purée, and some spices: be warned though that it settles and looks rather unappetizing. If you are okay with pop you might be inclined to use orange crush instead and add some spices to it. We used sparkling cider instead of wine ( the most popular option), and then Fire Whiskey was water in a clear wine bottle.
Harry Potter Party Props & Photo Booth:
We were fortunate to borrow a few fun things from a friend who’d already had a HP party.
A printout of Moaning Myrtle went on the wall in the bathroom and red face paint was used to paint a Chamber of Secrets message on the mirror.
We were prepared to make a “Have You Seen This Wizard?” frame for photos but my friend had one of those already done up. Dollar Tree or Dollarama has stiff poster/presentation board that would work easily for this purpose.
My friend also had an amazing paper mâché sorting hat that I was so afraid to break, but made for a great photo op.
We’d rounded up a collection of magical creature stuffies as well: a snowy owl, a brown owl, a few cats (including Crookshanks of course), a niffler my youngest made out of felt ages ago, a couple of rats (small stuffed IKEA mice actually). We didn’t have a toad but did try to find one! These would also make fun giveaways or place settings if you have a surplus or find them inexpensively (IKEA mice were $0.99 the last I looked).
Our party guests were all HP fans themselves and so came in costume, which added to the decor too! Because I’m a sucker for all things HP I was also convinced to make a last minute Dobby costume for my youngest, who was adorable, and carried around a sock all night. I was Bellatrix – or rather, Hermione as Bellatrix, because I couldn’t maintain a nasty and evil facial expression or tone!
We planned a photo booth to start the party off with because guests never arrive all at the same time. We thought this was a good way to keep everyone entertained while waiting for friends. This is where we used the Azkaban photo frame, the magical creature stuffies, the sorting hat, and miscellaneous other HP gear we had, such as robes, house ties and scarves. It was a great party, we had a lot of fun prepping for it, and all of the Hogwarts students enjoyed themselves (even the Slytherins).
There were so many great ideas for young witches and wizards that it was hard to choose what to do and incorporate into our Harry Potter party, but we were happy with the outcome and overall it was definitely on the lower cost side – just my style.