What is the best way to turn 40? With a surprise Harry Potter party thrown by your best friends and family, of course! And yes, I really was surprised.
Some backstory: several years ago, after it became apparent that there was a likelihood my singleness may be a permanent state rather than a “season of life,” I developed a plan. If I didn’t get married and do the whole wedding/reception with all the friends and family thing, I’d throw a huge 40th birthday party. But not just any party, I planned to rent out the Great Hall of the world’s best Harry Potter store, Whimsic Alley on the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, and have an adults only Potterfest worthy of J.K. Rowling herself. A Pinterest board was created. Research into costs and options was done. Friends and family were told.
And then, shortly after my 39th birthday, Whimsic Alley closed its doors for good. My sister and I pondered other venues, but nothing remotely affordable was even close. I decided that I’d rather just have a small family thing at home, and go out for coffee or lunch with friends throughout my birth month.
Fast-forward to July, 2018, and I was happily getting together with old friends for lunches here and there, and going to Las Vegas for a weekend with two of my best friends. Very content with my 40th birth month so far, I was supposed to go out the Saturday before my birthday for a sister night; she had something planned but wouldn’t tell me.
The day before, she called and told me the time to be ready, and that I should wear my Harry Potter swag and bring one of my wands. Now, for a lot of people this might seem like an odd request, but in our family it’s actually not that weird at all. We are one geeky brood. Check out my sister’s blog, my oldest brother’s blog, and my youngest brother’s art for further evidence. I figured she was taking me to a rooftop movie screening of HP, an HP themed puzzle room, or maybe even Wizarding World for the night.
So that afternoon, I put on my Hot Topic Harry Potter Great Hall Dress, “Books Turn Muggles into Wizards” necklace, golden snitch bracelet, and Hedwig earrings, chose one of my three wands, and hopped in my sister’s car. We headed to one of our favorite spots to eat, Little Osaka (Sawtelle Japantown). She then said we were going to meet two of my friends at my LA home church parking lot because they were coming with us. This seemed logical to me, as meeting in that parking lot was something we’d done many times when I still lived in West LA. Once at the church, the sis said she needed to use the bathroom, so we headed through the only door that appeared to be unlocked and up the stairs to encounter a “brick wall” over the door way.
I was stunned. It finally clicked that we weren’t here to pick up friends or use the bathroom, but that behind this curtain would be some sort of surprise party for me. But I honestly hadn’t seen it coming! I’d come to terms with the fact that my dream party wouldn’t happen, had accepted it, and moved on. Then I walked through the brick wall reminiscent of the entrance to Diagon Alley, and there was the entire Great Hall of Hogwarts laid out before me, and almost 40 of my friends screaming “Surprise!”
It was overwhelming, still is actually. The amount of work and creativity they put into transforming a room in a church to a banquet hall, the months of planning without me catching even a hint, the love and care put into this one night still blows my mind.
The Platform 9 ¾ photo booth. The butterbeer, firewhiskey, and smoking punch. The house themed tables, banners, and house gemstones (with Ravenclaw in the lead, of course!). The portraits of witches and wizards on the walls. The props and decorations and food. It was all perfect.
On a table to the side sat the most beautiful birthday cake I’ve ever gotten, made by one of my best friends, a brilliant pastry chef. It was also freakin’ delicious.
Moaning Myrtle even made an appearance in the ladies’ bathroom.
And, just like I’d dreamt, friends from many different aspects of my life joined together to hang out for one night – from my current town, from my old West LA life, family, roommates, dear friends from ministries past, my writer’s group, grad school, and childhood. Some who had never read the HP books or seen the movies still came and posed in the photo booth with beards and wands and a fabulous Hedwig balloon. Many came in full costume (my mom was seriously the cutest Molly Weasley ever) or Potterbounded.
It was my dream party even after I thought that dream was put aside. It was the best way to enter my forties – with love, joy, and whimsy.