Polar Express party takes kids to North Pole and back

"The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg has become a holiday classic. Children and adults love the story and artwork of the Caldecott Medal-winning picture book. It has even become a movie, starring Tom Hanks in several roles, that adds to the magic of the book.

Anyone with a child who has a December birthday knows the madness of planning a birthday party at this time of year. A Polar Express-themed party makes things a little bit simpler.

But, this theme doesn't have to just be for birthdays. With families gathering, it could be a distraction for the kids that becomes a tradition. The ideas provided below can also be tweaked for school or library events.

Invitations

Tickets to the Polar Express make great invitations and thank you notes.
Tickets to the Polar Express make great invitations and thank you notes. | Source

The invitations for the party come from the movie. An added detail is the ticket all children magically find to ride the train to the North Pole. The conductor punches the tickets at the beginning of the trip, then punches a word that describes the child at the end.

For the invitations, use gold or yellow-gold resume paper. On the computer, design a ticket that would take up a third of the paper (use a brochure template, if one is available). I found a clip art image of a train, and used that in the center, placing an oval around it. On either side of the center image, place the information for the party. Don't forget to tell the children to dress in their pajamas.

Print out two copies of the invitation for each child. The first is the actual invitation, and the second becomes the thank you note. Before the party, punch the word "thanks" at the bottom of each thank you ticket, and have your child write a message or sign the back.

When each child arrives at the party, ask for their ticket and punch a few holes in it. At the end of the party, ask for the ticket back, then hand the thank you ticket to the child. You could turn around and pretend to be punching the holes right there to add to the magic of the party.

Decorations

For my December birthday child, we wait until after his birthday to decorate the house for Christmas. This party allowed us to decorate "early," since Christmas decorations are the perfect decorations for a Polar Express party.

All that may be needed are a white plastic cloth and white cups that can hold hot liquids.

Activities

When the children arrive, Christmas music could be playing. Provide plain wooden trains (available at craft stores) for children to decorate with markers.

Once everyone has arrived and they are satisfied with their trains, start reading the story. We read the story as the kids sat around the dining room table so they could drink their hot chocolate during the reading. Remember to read so the children can see the illustrations as you read. If that skill is not easy, use a recording (professional or you) and flip the pages at the appropriate times.

After the reading, children could decorate gingerbread men or make a gift for mom or dad using craft kits available at craft stores.

For a game, play Guess What's in the Package. Find a few pre-decorated boxes and place a toy in each. Number each box. Provide a list of possible toys, and have the kids guess what's in each box by looking at the size of the box and shaking it. Kids place their guesses on the lists. Once everyone is done guessing, open the boxes and see who got the most correct. Prizes could be anything used as a stocking stuffer.

Santa could make a special guest appearance at the party, but if he is too busy to attend, the children will understand.

Food

First, and most importantly, you'll need hot chocolate "as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars." Use milk as your liquid base and your favorite cocoa powder. For the large serving, heat in a pot over the stove. For an extra touch, add a teaspoon of vanilla.

The story also describes the children eating "candies with nougat centers as white as snow." Mini Milky Way bars are an easy way to provide this food- just unwrap each candy and serve on a platter to make the chocolates look more special.

For a cake, I made a "mountain" by placing a smaller layer on top of the base. A small plastic train fit along the space created by the top layer having a smaller diameter.

A sleigh bell was the first gift from Santa, and could be the favor from a Polar Express party.
A sleigh bell was the first gift from Santa, and could be the favor from a Polar Express party. | Source

Favors

The favor for this party is very simple, yet very special. My son still has his on top of his desk, and it's been six years since he had the party.

It is a bell that looks like the sleigh bell Santa gave the boy wrapped as gift in a box. Attach a red ribbon or cord to the bell to make it look like it was cut from Santa's sleigh. Fill the box with tissue to minimize the sound of the bell while it is in the box. Wrap the box in red and white striped wrapping paper, if possible.

© 2014 Samantha Sinclair

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