Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to host a Harvest Party

As an alternative to Halloween traditions derived from pagan practices, many churches and civic organizations hold alternative festivities in celebration of the fall harvest season. Consider hosting a Victorian-themed Autumn ball, an old-fashioned hayride and barn dance, or a children's party featuring autumn games such as three-legged potato sack races. The following is a list of suggestions to make a historical harvest party a memorable occasion. Many ideas would tie in nicely with a colonial Thanksgiving event too.

Hold a period costume contest for children and/or adults to come dressed in their favorite Bible character, historical figure, or literary character. For example, ask guests to come dressed as famous characters who lived during a particular era in period-appropriate garb. Serve historically accurate treats and teach your guests either a traditional dance or game. Award guests wearing the most creative, most accurate, or most elaborate costume with a special box of candies or sweets.

Consider a party theme centered around the intended meaning of All Hallows Eve: Christian saints, martyrs and other historical men and women of faith. It was on October 31, 1517 that young Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church and lit the fire of the Protestant Reformation. Give each guest a pre-assigned name of a Christian figure such as Luther. Ask your guests ahead of time to come dressed in the appropriate period clothing for their character, and be ready to share with the other guests an interesting story from that character's life. Or consider involving your guests in a Bible trivia or charades game designed to keep them guessing at the identities of famous Christian figures.

If the location allows for it, host an old-fashioned bonfire singalong. Ask your guests to share favorite memories of autumns past and thankful sentiments for the physical and spiritual harvest that they have experienced in the preceding year. (There are a number of traditional hymns as well as contemporary worship choruses which incorporate the theme of light or fire that may be appropriate for the occasion, e.g., "Light the Fire," "Let the Flame Burn Brighter," "This Little Light of Mine" and "Pass It On").

Host an old-time baking or candy-making party. Set up stations for your guests to rotate and make different old-fashioned treats. Prepare ingredients and recipe cards ahead of time, so that the actual amount of "work" is minimal and guests are able to savor their finished creations. Consider making sweets that were popular at the turn of the century, including petit fours, molasses cake, and plum pudding, and asking guests to come dressed in casual, at-home fashions popular during the Edwardian era.

Host a colonial pumpkin party. Ask guests to come dressed in Pilgrim or 18th century garb. Begin with a brief introduction of the history of the pumpkin (which dates back many centuries and was enjoyed by people in Shakespeare's time as well as the early American colonists, and is figured prominently in several well-known works of literature including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Cinderella). Rather than carving jack-o-lanterns, have guests learn how to make from scratch old-fashioned pumpkin pie, Victorian pumpkin muffins, pumpkin butter, roasted pumpkin seeds, or pumpkin apple soup! Or consider making a unique pumpkin treat enjoyed during the 18th century: Colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey, and then baked the pumpkin in hot ashes.

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