Hansel & Gretel -7yr- Decorate Gingerbread
Lois in San Jose, CA, USA
February 2005 Winner
My daughter wanted a Hansel and Gretel birthday for her seventh birthdayùthe perfect party for a child who loves candy. The big attraction, of course, was the gingerbread house. After the invitations went out, one of her friends' moms told me her daughter asked, Who are Hansel and Gretel? When the mom answered, They are a little boy and girl whose parents take them into the woods and leave them there on purpose. Then a witch finds them and tries to eat them, her daughter stared at her in horror. Who would want that birthday party? But it did turn out very cute and fun, and since I couldn't find any Hansel and Gretel birthday write-ups on this website, I thought someone might be able to use our ideasùespecially if their child is a Candy Fiend like mine.
INVITATIONS: I made the invites on our computer. I scanned a Hansel/Gretel/gingerbread house picture from a book, sized it 3' x 3', put a light blue edge around it, and printed it on white cardstock. The picture had a lot of pink and light blue in it. The main invitation was just a 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch piece of white cardstock with the invitation info on the bottom half and a pink edge all around. I made sure to add very small at the bottom If it is raining please bring raincoats and boots. We would be outside, rain or shine. The invitation font was French Script MT and I used lots of leading between the lines of type. I used small scallop scissors to trim the blue edges and large scallop scissors to trim the pink. Then I layered a blue-edged picture at the top of each pink-edged invitation sheet, punched two small holes in the top (both layers) and tied them together with a thin blue ribbon. The bottom edge of the picture was 1/2 inch above the first line of type. They were mailed in 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 light blue envelopes by Wausau Papers (from Office Depot). The invitations were quick and easy to make, but I got lots of compliments.
DECORATIONS: Very simpleùmy daughter and I went to Party City to look for partyware. I had looked for gingerbread house designs at Christmas but they all looked too Christmasy. So, my daughter found some lavender glitter butterfly plates and napkins ($1 per package, clearance) with plain lavender tablecloths and pink flatware. We put up matching streamers and a huge cluster of balloons in the living room and dining room (lavender, pink and light blue). A bunch of helium balloons went outside to mark the house, and that was it for the décor. TIME: 2 1/2 hour party, 1:00 to 3:30 and the number of guests were 15 girls.
FURNITURE: I borrowed from an elementary school two large tables (seating 8 to 10 each) and three small tables (seating 4 each) with enough little chairs for all the guests and extra for little brothers and sisters who arrived in time for cake. The large tables were for the craft and cake (dining roomùwe took out the dining room table), and the little ones were for the activities (living room). I always like to have seats for parents near all the activities, too.
ATTIRE: The birthday girl wore a dirndl and braids. Two other guests also dressed like Gretel (kerchief, apron, bare feet, braids, etc.) You could request that on your invitation.
MUSIC: We had German children's songs playing in the background during the party, since Hansel and Gretel is a German story. Our favorites were probably the Leiderland CDs, especially the lullaby one.
CRAFTS: The craft was decorating a gingerbread house. We bought the gingerbread house kits at Trader Joe's about 6 weeks before the party. They have them every year at Christmas. The kits were imported from Germany and each one came with a Hansel, a Gretel, a witch and a cat, among other decorations. Trader Joe's says the houses are not really edible even when they first receive them, but one of my friends said her family ate it after the party and it tasted great, so who knows. My mom put all the gingerbread houses together the day before the party, ready for the children to decorate. We put a square of parchment paper under each one. She could do about four an hour. The kits come with decorator bags (just cut a tiny snip off the tip), but no frosting mix. Go to www.wilton.com for the Royal Icing recipe. When the girls arrived, they sat right down and started decorating. It took most of them about an hour. I had two dozen little paper dishes, each with a different kind of candy for extra decorating. I bought a lot of the candy after Christmas for 50% or 75% off and was able to get some pretty candies that are not available any other time of year. Seven year olds and decorator bags were kind of a mess for a while but then my mom came up with the idea of twisting the top (back end), folding the twist down and wrapping a rubber band around the folded twist. That worked well.
ACTIVITIES: After each girl finished her house, she took her little chair and went over to the activity tables. I had Xeroxed three pictures from a Hansel and Gretel coloring book (bought at www.ebay.com). The most popular, of course was the gingerbread house. I also had two tables of homemade play dough, pink and purple, with lots of gingerbread boy/girl cookie cutters, Fun Factories, Play Doh scissors, etc. Play dough recipes are at http://www.teachnet.com/lesson/art/playdough061699.html. I use Wilton food colors and tiny glitter in the dough. After everyone had finished their houses (except two late-comers, whose houses, frosting, etc. my mom packed up for them to finish at home), I read a Hansel and Gretel book. Several parents had told me their daughters didn't know the story. I used an old 1961 pop-up book (often sold on ebay) where the story is that the children get lost in the woods, meet the witch, and when they finally get home mommy and daddy are so happy to see them again. Sanitized but nicer for a birthday party, and it's short. Then it was time to act out the story via games
GAMES: Game 1) The girls followed a trail of white stones out the front door and around to the backyard (my daughters had set out the stones that morning). In the backyard the guests found a forest made of 35 fake Christmas trees. We bought them at Target when their Christmas things went 90% off, so they were only $1.99 each for 6 foot tall trees. It took my husband 10 minutes each to set them up. (My other daughter has already said her next birthday is going to be a camping party, so we'll be able to use them again before we sell them at a garage sale.) My husband could have hired neighbor boys to help with the trees and reduced his set-up time. Safety note: Wear gloves and long sleeves to set up the trees. Hidden in the trees were birds made of white cardstock (the little white bird in the story), hanging from thin gold threads. Each bird had a girl's name on it, and the girls all searched until they found their own bird. The birds were laminated in case it rained.
Game 2) Now we had to get the girls out of the backyard so my husband and some moms who had stayed to watch the fun could secretly set up the next game. From a craft store I had bought a little white bird made of feathers. I had hot glued it along with a bunch of shining ribbons onto the tip of a thin dowel rod, painted white. The girls followed the little white bird (I was carrying it) around to the front of the house. There they took a group picture, I handed out their empty candy bags, and we talked about where the little bird might be leading them (to the gingerbread house and the witch). The girls were very nervous about the witch, clinging to each other and squealing. In a ôjust supposeö kind of way, I explained the rules of the next game. Then they continued following the little white bird around the other side of the house and through the other back gate. They went down into the forest again, and there was my daughter's Little Tykes playhouse all covered with candy, taped onùmy daughter's idea again. (My daughter and I taped on the candy the night before and kept the house covered with plastic. Only a dozen pieces fell off overnight. By the way, the candy was very durable stuff like Jolly Ranchers, Tootsie Pops, Skittles, Bottle Caps, Sweet Tarts, Runts, jaw breakers, etc. that I got on sale after Halloween because I knew I was going to need a huge amount of little packages to cover the playhouse.) The girls of course converged on the house and started filling their candy bags. We found out the candy bags have to be pretty durable or they break open during the game. Then out of the little house, here came the witch! (my husband in a costume he rented for $25 from a theatre group). He chased the girls, and if he tagged one, the girl had to give him her white bird and go to a big cage my husband had made. Gretel (the birthday girl) was the only one who could get them out of the cage by giving them back their little white bird. This game lasted a long time and there was lots of laughing and screaming. My husband is funny and made little comments from all sorts of famous witches, especially the witch from the Wizard of Oz. When all the candy was gone, the witch asked Gretel to help him test the oven. The oven was a huge structure my husband had made of a bunch of junk--pallets, refrigerator boxes, a set of parallel bars, etc.--all securely fastened and covered in black plastic. Over the opening to the oven I stuck on big 5ö silver letters reading OVEN. Inside were a flaming skull (Halloween decoration we have) and a fan with flame-colored streamers attached and fluttering. The girls helped Gretel push the witch into the oven, where he quickly took off his costume. The girls all followed the witch into the oven and had fun playing in there for a while. That was unexpected. By the way, my husband rehearsed this whole game several times with the birthday girl in the days before the party, since she had such a special part to play in it, and we didn't want girls upset because they were stuck in the cage for a long time getting no candy.
Game 3) The day before, my daughters and I had used a digital camera to take close-up photos of things around the yardùa water faucet, one square of a trellis, an azalea flower, the latch of the chicken coop, etc., making sure there was one photo for each guest. I involved my children this time because when we did this treasure hunt at my younger daughter's Tinker Bell party, my older daughter ruined it by finding every single clue. I printed the photos from the computer, sequenced them so the guests would be running long distances between clues, put the photos in envelopes and wrote (tiny) where the envelope should be hidden. I kept clue 1 (daisy). Clue 2 (bench) was hidden in the daisies. Clue 3 (basketball net) was taped behind the bench, etc. After the oven had lost some of its charm, I asked the guests, What happened after the witch was gone? The children found a treasure! "Let's have a treasure hunt!" I gave envelope #1 to one of the guests, and the hunt began. The guests were very nice about making sure everyone had a turn. The girls ended up at the witch's house again and found a treasure chest inside (placed there in the set-up for game 2). When they K85carried the old wooden box outside, they found chocolate gold coins and their treat boxes inside. You could also put in jewels, necklaces, pearls, crowns, etc. After we had divvied up the loot, they went back inside our house for cake. My mom had put on the lavender tablecloths and set the two large tables while the girls were outside.
FOOD: The cake was two Wilton Stand-Up House (or Holiday House) pans back-to-back, standing on a white sheet cake. I used a package of pound cake and a package of spice cake, mixed, for the houses. The cakes have to be of firm texture because they stand up vertically. The cake store lady told me to use store-bought filling between the houses and run 2 skewers corner-to-corner diagonally through the two houses to hold them together. The sheet cake I bought from Safeway; it had a confetti design around the edges that coordinated with the house cake colors. Before putting the house on the sheet cake, I cut a thin piece of cardboard to the exact size of the house(s) bottom and cut a skewer into four pieces, each the exact height of the cake. I put the skewers in where I wanted the house to stand, placed the cardboard on top, then attached the house to the cardboard with a little frosting. This kept the house from sinking into and breaking the sheet cake. Next, I decorated the house cake like the Candy Cottage on the Wilton website: http://www.wilton.com/cake/shapedpans/pdf/2105-2070Stand-UpHouse.pdf, except I made the walls lavender, made the shutters of pink wafer cookies, frosted the door white with a red-hot heart on it (my daughter's wish), and used Dots candies instead of spearmint leaves around the bottom. I had bought one extra gingerbread house kit so I could use the Hansel, Gretel, witch and cat on the cake. The cat traditionally goes on the front roof peak of a German gingerbread house. In front of the house on the sheet cake I wrote Happy Birthday. I think this was one of the easiest cakes I've ever made, but it was really colorful and pretty and the children loved it. Since the party was between lunch and dinner, with a little ice cream and some juice boxes we were all set. I thought about making a swan cake, too, since there's a swan on the way home in the story. I would have made it of white cake in an Easter Egg cake pan with whipped cream frosting and baked meringue neck/head, wings and tail.
GIFTS: Next came the gift opening. We have a tradition of setting up two little chairs, one for the birthday child and one for the gift-givers. The guests take turns in the gift-giver seat. This way they can hear everything the birthday child says about the gift, the birthday child knows clearly who the giver is, etc. A good Hansel and Gretel gift for the birthday child might be the collectible Hansel and Gretel Kelly dolls by Mattel (available on ebay still in 2005). My daughter plays piano, so we also gave her the Hansel and Gretel Easy Piano Picture Book by Catherine Storr.
THE END: The party was done right on time, and the girls went home loaded with their gingerbread house, candy bag (someone said later that her daughter had 3 pounds of candy!) and treat box. We received many compliments on this party. One mother said her daughter told her it was the best party she's ever been to, and another guest asked her mother on the way home, Don't you wish we were in their family? So, our party was a success. I hope yours is, too, if you try the Hansel and Gretel theme!