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A Hopping Good Time: Easter Party Ideas for Toddlers, Kids, and the Young at Heart

A Hopping Good Time: Easter Party Ideas for Toddlers, Kids, and the Young at Heart

easter bunny eggs
You’re nobunny til somebunny loves you | Image courtesy Etsy seller Gnomewerkspdx

When we grow up, Easter tends to get unfairly short shrift. For one thing, it isn’t fixed in place like Christmas or always on the same weekend like Thanksgiving. Landing anywhere from late March to end of April, as adults in a life filled with responsibilities and hecticness, Easter can catch us by surprise.

But you know who loves Easter? Who looks forward to it every year? Kids. And what’s not to love? There’s candy, there’s the thrill of the egg hunt (because kids don’t know you can just go to the store for eggs, the adorable little goons), and of course, there are bunnies, the fluffy and cuddly kid-magnets synonymous with the holiday.

There’s more to it than that, though. I think kids just get excited by spring, with its atmosphere of warm renewal and crocus-pushing frost melt. Easter, both as a tradition and a time of year, promises a rebirth, the world unfurling again. Even toddlers, who might not fully remember the last holiday, know it’s important. They know it’s a season for growth.

So when throwing an Easter party for toddlers and kids, try to remember that feeling of awakening in yourself. Doing so can make for a party that’s fun for adults, too! We can all enjoy a good Easter celebration this year, with pastel traditions and egg-based humor. And that’s no yolk!

(Sorry.)

(I’m not actually sorry.)

Easter Party Theme Ideas for Toddlers and Young-At-Heart Adults

There’s more than one way to pet an Easter bunny. Throw a party the day of, or throw one beforehand. Either way, you’ll need to have some games and activities to make sure it’s one of the most memorable days of the year, and something to look forward to spring after spring.

Here are some ideas for parties that will leave both adults and children very hoppy, er, happy. Obviously, these can be mixed and matched any way you see fit.

The Easter Competition Party

One thing we love to do at our Easter parties is set up games for both kids and adults to play. Depending on how old the kids are, participation may vary, but they’re pretty suitable for anyone 3 and up.

pin tail on bunny game
Pin the tail on the Easter bunny | Image courtesy Etsy seller EmilyEntertains
  • The Egg Toss: This is the king of the Easter game because it combines the thematic importance of rebirth with people getting messy. Everyone pairs up and tosses eggs back and forth, getting farther apart each round, until only one pair has an unbroken egg. This is a lot of fun for adults and for kids because there is always the goofy tension of the egg hanging in the air. A variant for a younger crowd of toddlers could be having them toss a hard-boiled egg, or even rolling an egg across a table to each other.
  • The Bunny Hop Sack Race: All you need for this are enough sturdy bags (we prefer a good burlap bag designed for the purpose) and enough people who don’t mind falling down. You can have a kids’ race and an adults’ one, or just watch the kids hop around the lawn. This doesn’t even have to be a race, per se, it can just be an activity, with the kids hopping from tree to tree, each one getting a prize at various stops. For the adults though, it needs to be a race. After all, nothing inspires more fall down competition than ridiculousness.
  • Pin the Basket on the Bunny: All you need is a cutout of the Easter Bunny and some baskets to “pin” to his hand. There are a few variations on this. The basket could already be there, and the goal of the blindfolded participant would be to pin eggs to the basket. Or, you could even make it 3D, and have people try to drop eggs into a real basket while blindfolded (this is an outdoor game). Both kids and adults will enjoy this. It might be fun to see who is better!

The Crafty Easter Celebration

Part of the fun of Easter is that it is inherently DIY. From eggs to decorations, kids and adults can show off their creativity while celebrating the fresh, new season.

dyed Easter eggs
Coloring eggs is always a shell of a good time| Image courtesy flick’r user jriede
  • Egg decorating: This is wonderful no matter how old a kid is. Children as young as two can draw, and take their first fledgling steps at art. They know that eggs should be colorful, and as they get older, they’ll want to try different designs. You can use a classic egg-decorating kit, or use different crayons and markers or patterns. It’s an egg-cellent way to let imaginations hatch.
  • Build a Bunny: It’s like Build a Bear, only different. All you need are some felt or stuffed bunnies, and some patterns for clothes and accessories. Should Mr. Bunny have a top hat and a basket? Of course! Kids will have fun creating the Easter Bunny of their dreams.
  • An Easter-themed coloring book: Kids—and adults—love coloring books, and Easter, with its warm greens and bright pastels and daffodil yellows, is a perfect holiday for it. Get some coloring books for kids (and grown-ups!) and give yourself an hour of peace and quiet before or after the jelly bean-based sugar rush. Or, make your own customizable coloring book using your home computer and printer!

The Adventurous Easter Romp

Maybe you want to take your party to the next level of hip hoppity cool. Here are a couple ways you can do just that.

stuffed bunny
Are you telling me kids won’t be hoppy to see this guy? | Image courtesy Etsy seller SammieClarkArt
  • A scavenger hunt: Of course, you can do an Easter Egg hunt, which is always fun, but you can add more than just eggs. Hide items like coins, stuffed bunnies, toys, games, etc. If each child has a list of things to find, you can also ensure that everyone gets the same things, instead of the oldest kid hoarding 30 eggs while the rest of the kids cry. Let’s try to avoid that.
  • A visit from the Easter Bunny: A plush costume, a basket of eggs and candy, and a willingness for one of the adults to disappear for a bit are all that’s needed to make for a memorable Easter. It’s obvious that the kids will love this, especially the younger ones, and all the adults (or at least the ones who aren’t in the costume) will as well.
  • A petting zoo: This is obviously on the upper end, but there are a lot of organizations that will bring over rabbits for the kids to pet and play with. Who knows? It might end up sparking a lifetime of lepus love.

It’s funny. It’s easy for Easter to take us by surprise. Not in the Christmas sense of, “I can’t believe it’s only a week until Christmas where did the time go I NEED TO WRAP,” but in a literal way. We don’t always remember it’s coming. But when we do, it’s almost impossible not to get excited.

It’s spring again. Flowers are coming back. Birds are returning north. The kids know it; they know that life is about to start unwrapping itself. With these Easter party ideas, even us adults can remember what that was like, when we saw the world as new.

Bounce to social media and let us know about your favorite Easter party ideas. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Egg-cellent Easter Basket Ideas for Tweens (Because the Easter Bunny Loves Hip Hop)

Egg-cellent Easter Basket Ideas for Tweens (Because the Easter Bunny Loves Hip Hop)

easter bunny basket
This Easter, make things memorable for your tween | Image courtesy Darren Coleshill via Unsplash

I still don’t know how the Easter Bunny managed to disappear without a trace every year before my sister and I could spot him. As girls, we would eagerly wait for him to ring our doorbell and leave our baskets on the porch. The problem was, he always surprised us by dropping our goodies at a different entrance than the one we were waiting at. Whatever sort of bunny magic he used to trick us, I’ll never forget the excitement of running to the door and throwing it open to try to catch even a glimpse of his fluffy tail bounding out of sight.

My basket was always bursting with milk chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, a homemade treat or two, and neon Easter grass, but there were also other surprises every year. Fun masks for playing pretend, chapter books and bookmarks, art and craft supplies. I went wild for the sweets, of course, but it was the small gifts that had staying power, especially as I got older and had enough pocket money to buy candy on my own.

Easter isn’t just “the candy holiday.” It was, and still is, an important time for my family to be together, and the personal touches inside my basket are what reminded me that my parents understood me and my passions in life. Creating an Easter basket for your tween isn’t hard. Keep their unique interests and hobbies in mind, all those little details that make up who they are, and they’ll know their basket was filled with so much more than just snacks and sweets.

Themed Baskets for Every Tween

I went through quite a few “phases” growing up. One year I was obsessed with The Little House on the Prairie, the next with The Babysitter’s Club. I wanted to be an actress, then a scientist, then a teacher. Whether your tween aspires to be a YouTube celebrity like Miranda Sings or a dance superstar like Maddie Ziegler, here are a few ideas that will make the Easter Bunny seem pretty cool in their eyes.

baseball art
Hit a homerun with a sports-themed basket | Image courtesy Etsy seller ScarletBlvd

The Star Baseball Player

  • A water bottle from the Chicago cubs to inspire them to never give up on their own dreams
  • A new pair of baseball socks because between grass stains and growing pains, tweens go through socks faster than parents go through coffee
  • A travel-sized sunscreen for those spur of the moment games in the park with their friends
  • A stopwatch so they’re always prepared to go into training mode
  • A new baseball since they’re forever getting lost behind fences
  • Nestle it all in a baseball cap from their favorite team and you’ve hit one out of the park!

The Prima Ballerina

  • A ballerina figurine to remind them of their dreams
  • Hair clips and scrunchies to keep their hair tidy while they pirouette across the stage
  • A new pair of tights (those things run faster than the Easter Bunny trying to hide from my sister and me)
  • A personalized mix CD of inspirational dance music
  • Bundle the gifts inside a cozy sweatshirt they can wear over their leotard while warming up.

The Drama Club President

  • A funny, age appropriate play they can stage with their friends
  • Stage makeup, to practice for their next big performance
  • Costume accessories like fake mustaches, masks, and crowns to making getting into character just a little bit easier
  • A playbill or collectible from their favorite play, to remind them of the bright lights they’re aiming for
  • Tuck the gifts inside an empty movie theater popcorn box because one day they’ll be up on the big screen.

The Future Vet

dog pillow
Tweens can keep their furry bff close with this Boston terrier pillow | Image courtesy Etsy seller GoodAfternoonan
  • Animal stickers to decorate their school supplies with
  • Small toys they can use to play with their pets
  • Grooming tools for when they want to show their pet some extra TLC
  • A stuffed animal resembling their pet that they can snuggle with at night
  • Small plastic or porcelain animal figurines to decorate their desk at school
  • Place the gifts in a brand new water dish for their favorite animal.

The Bird Watcher

  • Birding binoculars so they can take a closer look at their feathered friends
  • A guidebook on birds in your area, so they can sharpen their knowledge
  • Seed bombs, so they can grow wildflowers to attract more birds to your yard
  • A window-mount bird feeder, so they can watch the birds from inside on rainy spring days
  • Choose a natural wood easter basket—it will look like a real bird’s nest!

The Book Worm

  • Bookmarks, so they never lose their place
  • Small chapter books, so they can go on adventures in their mind
  • A reading light for those nights when they just can’t put their book down
  • A pencil case to hold highlighters to mark their favorite passages
  • Stickers or collectible gear related to their favorite book series
  • Place the gifts inside a hollowed out book that can be used later to store all manner of small bookish treasures.

You only need to include a couple of gifts to make your Easter basket stand apart from the norm, whether you choose handmade self-care gifts for your girly girl or outer space-inspired bits and bobbles. It’s your thoughtfully creative packaging that will have them feeling the love.

DIY Customized Phone Cases: An Easter Gift Every Tween Will Relate To

I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was in college, but my 6-year-old niece uses her Grandma’s so much, it might as well be her own. She uses it to make videos of her cheerleading and gymnastics routines. Whether your tween wants to call up their friends for a spontaneous game of baseball or uses it to take pictures of a migrating yellow-rumped warbler at the bird bath, chances are they’re also attached to their smart device. Putting a custom case for their favorite phone in their Easter basket is a surefire way to keep them interested in the Easter Bunny for at least a few more years (and will keep that expensive little computer up and running for as long as possible too).

cell phone case
Help them show off who they are with a custom phone case | Image courtesy Etsy seller ElenaIllustration

To create your own custom phone or tablet case, you’ll need:

  • A clear case for the appropriate device
  • A printed out picture your tween will like (anything from celebrities to sports stars, book characters to cute animals—it depends on the tween!)
  • Mod Podge
  • A glue stick

To make the personalized case:

  1. Cut the picture to fit neatly inside the case. The images should be facing out, so when the case is on the device, you can see the pictures.
  2. Make sure your image isn’t covering any spaces cut out of the case that leave the camera and microphones clear.
  3. Add a thin layer of Mod Podge to the inside of the device case, then press your image, right side out, onto the Mod Podged surface. Use your fingers to press out any air bubbles.
  4. Wait until dry, then add a layer of Mod Podge to the back of your image. Let that dry before adding one final layer to seal it in.
  5. When the last layer of Mod Podge is dry, the case is ready to use.

Walking down store aisles decorated to the nines can make holidays seem commercialized and a little impersonal, but making your own Easter basket is one way to bring meaning back this time of family and renewal. It shows your tween that you “get” them, and the extra effort put forth won’t go unappreciated—even if it is the Easter Bunny who gets the accolades!

As an adult, it’s the books, small figurines, homemade treats, and other surprise gifts from my Easter basket that I remember, not the generic candy. It showed me that my parents—I mean, the Easter Bunny—wanted the day to be truly special. And I carry the tradition on by adding something personal to each gift I give as well.

If you want to make this Easter really magical, check out our Easter gifts for kids guide. You can stay up-to-date with all things Elfster on Facebook, and don’t forget to check in with us on Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Imaginative Make Up Your Own Holiday Day Ideas That Celebrate Whatever Inspires You

Imaginative Make Up Your Own Holiday Day Ideas That Celebrate Whatever Inspires You

celebrate cake topper
Celebrate with this cake topper any day of the year | Image courtesy Etsy seller LettersToYou

Have you ever said something along the lines of, “Oh man, if I were president, I’d declare a national holiday for whoever invented string cheese.”  Well, it turns out that under a close reading of the Constitution, it isn’t only a president who can declare holidays. It isn’t even one of their primary duties. Anyone, in fact, can invent a holiday, and you should do so at the end of March.

March 26th is Make Up a Holiday Day, a day that celebrates the fact that we can celebrate whatever we want, even if we aren’t president. Think of something underappreciated, unknown, or just plain goofy that you think deserves to be celebrated. It’s a day to ask people what they think’s important, or talk to your kids about who they think should be recognized. It’s a day to reflect on what matters to you, whether it’s solemn and noble, or the concept of fun itself.

So this Sunday get together with friends and brainstorm on the kind of holidays you’d like to see. Who knows? Maybe soon enough they’ll be on the calendar. If Make Up a Holiday Day can get its own, well, day… anything goes!

A Quick Aside About Making Up a Holiday

pine forest mug
Arbor Day is taken, but what about “National Pine Forest Day”? Pine forests are outstanding! | Image courtesy Etsy seller TeideShop

It might seem weird to “make up” a holiday, but really all of them were made up by someone at some point who wanted to celebrate something. Arbor Day didn’t come to us from above, it came from someone saying, “Hey, know what’s awesome? Trees,” and everyone agreeing.

A holiday can be unofficial and still be celebrated (after all, it isn’t like National Talk Like a Pirate Day is recognized by Congress, though Michigan and California goofily honored it). Social media makes it all possible.

Great ideas are recognized, and build critical mass, and then suddenly everyone is celebrating something and adding their own touches. And really, it isn’t like you get Arbor Day off, so what is the difference between your new holiday and that one, aside from time and tradition. Nothing. And at some point, Arbor Day was new.  So go and start one.

(But also, really, plant a tree. You can even plant a sequoia! It’s a great gift for the person who has everything, and also 4000 years to watch it grow.)

Ideas for Quirky Holidays and Parties to Celebrate Them

So here are a few holiday ideas you can consider. Feel free to take inspiration from them, or even use them as your own, so long as you also propose a National Recognize That Guy Who Came up with This Holiday Day. (Oh, who am I kidding: St. Patrick’s Day is essentially already my holiday anyway).

millard Fillmore
This is Millard Fillmore. Not familiar to you? He was a US president | Image courtesy Wikimedia

Forgotten President’s Day

Technically, Presidents Day celebrates all 44 previous office holders, but most people only think of Washington and Lincoln, and maybe chuck in a Roosevelt or two for good measure. The others are forgotten, and having a day to remember them can actually make for a surprisingly fun party. This isn’t a celebration of truly bad presidents like James Buchanan or Warren G “Regulator” Harding. It’s more of a celebration of the weird quirks of history, that these people who were incredibly powerful, and who worked their whole lives for something, end up dusty and forgotten.

So for your party, assign everyone some obscure president. Have them dress up (your old-timey hat and wig distributor will be thrilled), and have them bring some trivia to do a brief reenactment. This will challenge your friends’ creativity, while also shedding light on the very real events that made us who we are. After all, history didn’t jump from Jackson to Lincoln. People like Franklin Polk made big differences, for better and worse. Who knew? Probably not even Franklin Polk.

National Weird Food Day

Not too long ago, my wife was babysitting my brother’s triplets (!) and when he got home, he made himself a peanut butter and cheese sandwich. No bread, just peanut butter between two slices of cheddar. She was stunned because she makes fun of me for eating that all the time. Neither my brother nor I knew the other one ate them because we never asked, because we both just think it’s normal. Because it is…

Tastes like chicken
Tastes like… | Image courtesy Etsy seller EvenInDeathArt

Every family has weird eating quirks that they take for granted. Same goes for every region and every culture. And that can make for a great party. Have guests come over bearing dishes that, as they grew up, they learned that not everyone eats. It’s a celebration of the strange ways our experiences shape us, and a joyful gathering of the differences that really make us all the same.

Some dishes will be weird to you, and some will be like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. “Where have you been all my life?” you’ll say to spaghetti and jelly.

OK, probably not that. But maybe? And that’s the point.

National Calvinball Day

If you’re making up a holiday, why not make up one that celebrates the very joy of creativity? Calvinball, for those of you who don’t know, is from Calvin and Hobbes, the greatest comic strip of all time (though I’ll hear arguments for Peanuts and Krazy Kat, of course). If you don’t already own the entire collection, Calvinball is a game where the only rule is that there are no rules. You can make it up as you go along, and force the other person to play by your rules as you make them.

Calvin and Hobbes quote
It will all make sense… | Image courtesy Etsy seller CountryHouseStudios

A typical game might involve Calvin hitting a badminton birdie into a tree with a polo mallet to go up Oogy to Boogey, before learning that the Vortex Zone he decreed Hobbes to be in is secretly a Boomerang Zone, so he has to spin. It’s a tough game.

So at the party, encourage people to make up their own rules. Everyone gets a turn. If they say that for the next minute everyone has to sing the theme song to Mr. Belvedere, everyone has to sing the theme song to Mr. Belvedere. If someone decrees that there is going to be a 30-second contest for who can make the coolest tower out of what’s on the cheese platter, it’s time to get all Frank Gehry on some dairy. If someone else decrees it to be time to go outside and play Calvinball, well, you know the drill.

Or rather, you don’t know the drill, and that’s what makes it so exciting. When you’re coming up with something new, it’s unformed. So many holidays have traditions that you don’t have to follow, but you feel weird when you don’t. If we didn’t have ham on Easter, I’d feel strange, even though there’s no real connection between ham and spring, you know?

But when starting from scratch, it’s up to you. But it is also up to the way people interpret your holiday. When you propose and promote a holiday, it might just be between you and your friends. But it might grow and catch on, and you’ll realize something amazing: what is important to you means something to other people as well, and they might want to celebrate it too. And that’s a real connection.

Isn’t that what holidays are all about? We celebrate these connections between us; they’re a joint sense that something is important, whether it’s as goofy as talking like a pirate or as solemn as honoring the fallen brave. Because they are a reminder that there’s something bigger than just ourselves, and that we are bonded in ways we don’t even realize. Every holiday is a raised glass to the threads that bind.

What holiday would you like to see become part of the canon? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Bring Your Brogue: Charmed St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas Inspired by The Quiet Man

Bring Your Brogue: Charmed St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas Inspired by The Quiet Man

the Quiet Man
The Quiet Man | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There’s an Irish pub near my home that I frequent quite often. It was my dad’s favorite place, and we were often the only people there born this side of the Atlantic. Warm and homey, it was thick with brogues and resplendent with laughter. I once took my soon-to-be-in-laws there and a friend of mine introduced himself to them saying, “Many a times have I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in this very pub with Brian. And, a few of those times, it was even St. Patrick’s Day!”

St. Patrick’s Day has always been incredibly important to me. I’ve attended, and thrown, more Patty’s Day parties than I can count. But after a while, you begin to realize they’re all pretty much the same thing: shamrocks on the wall, maybe a green drink or two, and Irish classics on the radio. The holiday doesn’t seem to have much variety. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Last year, I decided to throw a party themed after one of my favorite movies, The Quiet Man. It’s a classic film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara set in a small town in the countryside of Ireland. It’s wildly funny, sentimental, moving, and a great love letter to the Emerald Isle from director John Ford. Hosting a themed party challenged me in terms of decorations and events—and challenged my guests to come costumed. But it was worth it.

It turned out that throwing a party inspired by The Quiet Man was the loudest party of all. 

Transforming Your Home into Innisfree

To briefly sum up the movie, John Wayne plays an American boxer named Sean Thornton who decides to move back to his home country of Ireland where he was born before moving to Pittsburgh as a baby. Growing up among the “steel slag hills,” he was told of the greenery and beauty of his native town of Innisfree. So he moves there, soon falling in love with the fiery Mary-Kate Danaher—but the marriage is forbidden by her brother. Romance, drama, and comedy ensue. It’s all incredibly Irish, with outstanding dialogue and a comic master performance by Barry Fitzgerald. It’s a truly great film.

shamrock pallets
Painted pallet shamrocks | Image courtesy Etsy seller R2KPallets

To throw a party inspired by it, you first have to recreate the mood and feeling of a small Irish town before modernity took hold. Start with the feeling of the pub where, unsurprisingly, a lot of the action happens. Order personalized bar signs with your name, or perhaps the name of the main pub in Innisfree, Cohen’s. You can also put up an Irish flag, although Ireland wasn’t technically independent when the movie takes place.

But it doesn’t stop there. To give your home the feel of old Innisfree, consider making it more, well, rustic. John Wayne’s character lives in a thatched cottage; he redid the roof himself. So I bought some thatch that may have been meant for a tiki party, but, if you put it up on the ceiling, it creates a cozy, woody feeling (rather than a hot and tropical one). Your guests will feel like they’re beneath an Irish cottage’s thatched roof, freshly pulled from the fields and dried.

Finally, I blew up pictures of the lusciously green Irish countryside taken on trips, and put them in windowpane-style picture frames so that it seemed like you were looking out the windows into a still, misty emerald afternoon, even in the loud raucous of my basement.

Tweeds and Wools in Greens and Browns

tweed accessories
Tweedy accessories | Image courtesy Etsy seller CELTICFUSIONDESIGN

So you have your home the way you want it, but what about you and your guests? While I never require costumes at my parties (because I’d rather people came), I don’t mind throwing ones where costumes are encouraged. And this one is fun, and pretty easy.

For the Women

Maureen O’Hara has quite a few iconic looks in the movie, including a frilly green dress with a bonnet (ideal for a rain-soaked romp in an old cemetery), blue top and white skirt for the climactic “chase” scene, and of course the jacket and knit cap she wears when first she meets Sean Thornton.

Now, of course, you don’t have to emulate her look entirely. Any knit cap will do. You want tweedy and earthy, vibrant colors that aren’t too rich, but look like the countryside. This isn’t fancy dress. It’s homey and homemade, passed down through the years, and brought out when an American gentleman comes courting.

But remember: Mary Kate Danaher is no passive wallflower. Make sure the clothes can contain a proud temper.

For the Men

A lot of the characters in the film wear suits, but that isn’t as much fun as the wooly Irish cap, the biggest necessity for your outfit. Just pair it with a sturdy button-up shirt and pants that can be worn in the field, church, or pub. If you have the hat, nearly any look—suit, suspenders, overcoat—is automatically reminiscent of the Emerald Isle. Of course, there’s also always a kilt.

Music for an Irish Jig

st. Patrick's Day Party Ideas
Honorary Irish | Image courtesy Etsy seller MossandTwigPrints

There’s a saying by G.K. Chesterton:

“The great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad.”

He’s wrong about all the songs being sad, but he does capture how music is an intrinsic part of Irish culture, and how you’ll be needing some for your party.

There are the traditional rousing pub songs (“Whiskey You’re the Devil”, “Whiskey in the Jar”), the sad songs (“Danny Boy”, “The Ferryman”), and the patriotic songs (“Up the Rebels”, “The Rising of the Moon”).

Maybe my favorite sad/rousing/patriotic song is “Wild Colonial Boy,” which is also sung by the characters in Quiet Man. And don’t forget, of course, The Quiet Man theme, which is melodic and rousing. You can go modern as well, with the quintessential sing-along song, ”The Wild Rover,” sung here by The Pogues.

plains of Ireland
Not actually the view from my basement | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Music is incredibly important to help set the mood. You can imagine people gathering in a warm pub out of the misty night, coming in from their fields and out of their homes, gathering around a fire, clinking glasses, and singing the songs of that tragic and poetic and merry and absurd land.

It’s that land The Quiet Man celebrates. Every character has their private sorrows beneath their open cheer, and everyone, even the main villain, loves their country with a deep and encompassing passion.

So make merry. Recite your favorite lines from the movie. And know that while shamrocks don’t always bring luck, when you have your friends gathered in your own private Innisfree, you already have all the fortune this life can bring.

How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Do you have any movie-themed party plans? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Simple and Sweet DIY Coworker Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for the Office

Simple and Sweet DIY Coworker Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for the Office

office valentine
Image courtesy Etsy seller KerrysBungalow

There are few questions more fraught in the workplace than, “So, do you have Valentine’s Day plans?” It can lead to some awkward moments. The answer could be, “No, for I have yet to find love,” or, “We’re going skydiving with heart-shaped parachutes,” and then everyone else feels like scrambling to improve their plans. And many people just say, “I don’t really do Valentine’s Day.”

Work relationships are an interesting middle ground in our lives. You spend a ton of time at work, and really get to know people, but being too gushy is sometimes frowned upon. It makes Valentine’s Day delicate.

That’s why you should just have fun with it—and where the idea of a gift exchange can come in. Having a no-pressure, slightly goofy gift exchange on Valentine’s Day means everyone gets something, everyone gives something. After all, there’s nothing worse than being the one kid who didn’t get a card in their little cardboard box. Help your coworkers avoid heartbreak with these Valentine’s Day gift ideas for the office.

The Sweet Tooth Swap

I know, I know: Valentine’s Day comes right after you’ve finally worked through all the candy and sweets at your house from the holidays, but, on the other hand: more candy.

tabletop candy decorations
Sweet desktop decorations turn the office into a candyland | Image courtesy Etsy seller SweetGiftsbyStar

Having a “Sweet Tooth Swap” can be a fun and low-cost office gift exchange. Everyone just brings their favorite candy, whether it’s a tube of Toblerone’s, a bag of assorted Hershey’s Nuggets, or those cool “passport chocolates.” It’s a nice idea because everyone will get some sweet treats, regardless of their relationship status.

That’s the thing with Valentine’s Day: it’s a centuries-old tradition, but many people think it’s a “made-up” and commercialized holiday and that the various pressures are absurd. But the pressures often still feel real. So a candy exchange is a “sweet” way to lighten the office mood, especially if the gifting includes festive decor and some party activities, like:

  • Decorate desks with candy centerpieces (especially if you can pay for it with company money).
  • Have a goofy toy bow-and-arrow, like Cupid’s, that the person picking a candy gift holds. Tell them not to shoot it at any coworkers—they aren’t actually cupid, after all.  
  • Play games. I know I said not to shoot the arrows at each other, but if you have room in the office, set up a paper heart on the wall and have a competition to see who can hit the center of it with the arrows. Make sure, though, that the arrows are foam.  
  • Have a “Worst Valentine’s Day Ever” story competition. Everyone tells a quick, funny story. We all have them. Mine, for instance, involves a very unfortunately spilled bowl of soup. That way, everyone can laugh at how silly the whole thing can be.

Office Inspired Gift Exchange Ideas

Maybe your office has decided against candy; after all, a lot of workplaces are very concerned with health and wellness these days. But a “granola exchange” rarely sets hearts fluttering. Remember, though, that Valentine’s Day doesn’t just mean hearts: it encompasses affection, kindness, and thoughtfulness for everyone in our life.

des korganizer
A rustic chic look for the office | Image courtesy Etsy seller StacysCountryDesigns

And, it can be really helpful to set up a gift exchange online to make sure that everyone gets something, and that people stay within their spending limits. No need to put more pressure on the occasion.

Here are some simple and fun office gift exchange ideas:

Decorative pen holders. Something desk-related is always appreciated, whether it’s a cool and crafty pen holder, a fun decoration for the cubicle, a stress-reliever, or anything else small and work-appropriate. It’s nice because the recipient will think about the giver multiple times during the day, which helps create possibly unexpected connections in the workplace.

Personalized mugs. Most people you work with drink either coffee or tea. Instead of having a random hodgepodge of mugs around the office, encourage cupid to bring personalized mugs with funny sayings that will be meaningful to the recipient. Maybe they have a catchphrase, or an inside joke, or a funny quote from a client, like “I didn’t know ‘this Thursday” meant this Thursday!” It shows you know something about them, and that you pay attention to them as a human being. That matters, and they’ll think about it with every sip.

downloadable coupons
Downloadable coupon printables from Elfster | Download here

Homemade baked goods. OK, this isn’t totally healthy, but who doesn’t like baked goods. Exchanging these leads to more exchanges, as people swap a few of their mini-cupcakes for cookies or homemade heart-shaped macaroons. And, it may even lead to an intra-office recipe swap!

The classic coupon: Here’s an easy way to make someone’s day a lot better. We know that couples often exchange these, but downloadable Valentine’s coupons can also be great at work. Giving someone a coupon that says, “I’ll take the lead on a client call of your choice,” or “I’ll stay late to teach you Excel,” or “Good for one lunch on me” can make a demonstrable difference in someone’s day. You can also do a White Elephant-type swap on these—someone who needs to learn Excel might really appreciate it.

Valentine’s Day in the workplace should be about bonding, and having fun, and poking a hole in the pressure-filled romance of the day. The point here is to laugh and have a good time. You can turn this sometimes-difficult holiday on its head, and make it great for everyone.

By setting the right mood, and making sure that everyone’s involved, you can craft a Valentine’s Day remembered not for awkwardness and oversharing, but for genuine laughter and camaraderie. And isn’t that what the office should really be about?  

Let us know your work Valentine’s stories on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And don’t forget to download our printable Valentine’s Day coupons!

National Send a Card to a Friend Day: Letter Writing Inspirations and Ideas

National Send a Card to a Friend Day: Letter Writing Inspirations and Ideas

“Oh, my stars! It’s a letter from dear Willeford! He’s writing from far off America!”

3d butterfly card
Say it in 3D | Image courtesy Etsy seller anasdesignshop

You’ve probably watched a scene just like this one on some BBC period drama, with sumptuous clothes and weirdly bad lighting and various viscounts—and a character exclaiming delightedly at receiving a letter.

It’s almost unimaginable that there was a time when you could go months without word from a loved one, instead of reading about the daily life of grade-school acquaintances on social media. But there’s also probably a twinge of regret; regret that you don’t get letters anymore. The mail is often nothing more than ads and bills—there’s no mystery.

We’ve gained so much from instant communication, but we’ve also lost something. That’s why we’re so excited that National Send a Card to a Friend Day is coming around this February 7th. When you send a card, a letter, or an e-greeting, you’re giving so much more than a piece of paper. You’re giving a gift of yourself. You’re giving the gift of words. You’re sending love in an envelope—even if it’s a digital one.

Greeting Cards Are an Unexpected Event

chalkboard style card
Cards that send a message | Image courtesy Amazon seller Note Card Cafe

If you’re like me, when you get a card in the mail, you look at the envelope a few times, almost confused. You see the return address with a familiar name, but it’s not your birthday. It’s not Christmas. It’s just…a day. And that’s when you start to get excited.

You’re excited because it’s unexpected. It could be an invitation to a party, or the announcement of a baby. You open it, and it’s a note. It’s a card, hand-written. It’s heartfelt. It matters because the meaning behind it is that you were thought of.

And it’s the same with an e-card. We get so much junk and nonsense in our inboxes and social media feeds all day that the unexpected ping of something sent just because you’re you makes an enormous difference. The surprise of an e-card cuts through the chaff of our never-emptying inbox, and sends the gift of brightness.

Now, with this holiday, it’s not about everyone getting a card on the 7th. That would be had to coordinate, given the times it takes mail to be delivered. Of course, you can do that with e-cards but, otherwise, we’re looking to send them on the 7th. So get some blank cards, stock up on envelopes, stretch out your hand, and put pen to paper.

Prompts and Inspirations to Send Your Love

Obviously, we can’t tell you exactly what to say, but we can give some ideas, some prompts, some bits of inspiration:

vintage letter art print
Reading a letter used to be an everyday scene | Image courtesy Etsy seller OakwoodView

Send best wishes. Remember that these cards don’t have to be written to your best friend in the whole world. They can be to a relative you don’t talk to enough, an acquaintance with whom your main interaction is the occasional Facebook “like,” or an old neighbor who you used to hang out with until you moved away. Just send a card saying you’re thinking about them, and hope they’re doing well. Tell them you miss them. And that’s enough.

Send something personal. All cards are inherently personal, but make sure that what you’re writing isn’t mass-produced, but directed to a specific person. Ask something about them, let them know that you’re writing with them in mind. We don’t expect this from an invitation or a thank you note from a wedding, but when sending a card out of the blue, take the time to make it a reflection of your relationship.

Send your personality. Remember that while you’re sending the card to a person, you’re sending it from yourself. So find a card that reflects who you are, and how you’re feeling. Are you sending warmth and love? Are you feeling goofy? Do you want to send cute animals or cute actors (goslings and Goslings)? The writing is what matters, of course, but you also want to make sure the card makes people think of you with a smile on their face when they see it.

llama greeting card
Hay, girl! There’s a card for any personality | Image courtesy Etsy seller GreymountPaperPress

Send gratitude. Sometimes, you just want to tell a person that you appreciate them. It might be for doing you a solid one time, or it might be because you’re happy they exist, just knowing that they’re out there with their own personalities, with their greatness and their flaws, with their huge heart and goofy laugh. You’re grateful that you know them. Your life is better for knowing them. Because life is measured by the people we let into our hearts, and who we are is shaped by those around us.

Send a photo. I know there are over 82,000 pictures of you online, most of which involve cake of some kind, for some reason. Those are cool, but there’s something great about holding a tangible photo. If you have a real, printed picture of you with a friend or family memeber, whether you printed it off your phone or dug it out of a shoebox, that matters. It moves from ephemeral to tangible. It’s a great thing to get in a card. It’s an amber-captured smile.

Send something funny. I once got a card from an old friend of mine telling me a goofy story that just happened to her. She said that only I would get why it was so funny, and it cracked me up. It reminded me of absurd things happening when we would hang out and how we’d laugh like idiots until everyone else backed off, confused. A card doesn’t have to be ooey-gooey to be meaningful. The funny story reminded me of our friendship, and was an incredible thing to get out of the blue. I felt that old connection every time I looked at it. And I laughed. That’s not a bad deal.

stationary set
A stationary set to inspire | Image courtesy Etsy seller DPanesarillustration

Send a memory. A card is something that you’ll dig up a few years later, buried in a drawer or a scrapbook, and you’ll remember when you got it, and how exciting it was. But the card itself can contain a memory. You can write someone and say, “I was just thinking of that time we drove all night to catch the concert,” or, “I was just remembering how you held me when I found out she was sick,” or anything else. It’s a bond, it’s a remembrance reaching out from the page. Each sentence, each letter, contains the sound of the band or the smell of the salty breeze or the arm wrapped around you in your sorrow—and a gratitude for their friendship.

That’s what’s amazing about sending a letter. You’re making the effort to reach out, to connect in a way outside of the speed and impermanence of our modern world. There is so much to love about the way we communicate in the modern, technological era, but there is also much to love in what we’ve lost.

But you can find it again. This February 7th, sit down and write a letter. You don’t need wax seals or trained birds or a fancy Victorian desk. You just need to think about a person, wonder what they would love to open, and get to writing. A letter is more than a piece of paper. It’s a gift that can only come from one person, and that might be the most meaningful gift of all.

Let us know your most unexpected card story on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun

A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun

handmade valentine card
Handcrafted valentines say so much more | Image courtesy Etsy seller LemonDropsandLilacs

Around this time of year, my friend Sophie and I find ourselves reminiscing about the good ol’ days of elementary school, when we would make construction paper valentines for each of our friends. Though we were clumsy with a bottle of Elmer’s glue and overzealous with the glitter, we worked so hard to create perfect notes and cards that all had unique, personalized touches.

Last year, Sophie didn’t want her two school-aged daughters to have to rely on pre-made valentines featuring cartoon characters. She wanted them to learn the value of making something by hand—and to know just what it’s like to get so passionate about cutting out the perfect (non-lopsided!) paper heart. So we jumped into party-planning mode, and organized a Valentine’s Day gift and snack extravaganza!

The weekend before Valentine’s Day, Sophie invited her daughters’’ best friends and their parents over for a crafting and DIY party. In all, we had about 11 kiddos and 9 parents, each family volunteering to bring one item from a party supply wishlist. And then we all gathered to make delicious Valentine’s Day treats and handmade valentine cards—just like when we were kids.

Heart-Shaped Marshmallow Crispies

Kids (and kids-at-heart) can’t get enough of ooey-gooey marshmallow cereal treats—it’s a staple at most classroom parties. But we thought this classic treat deserved a decorative spin for the holiday of love—so we pulled out the heart-shaped tins and got to work.

handmade marshmallow treats
Marshmallow crispies are always a hit | Image courtesy Etsy seller LilMissCupcakeLady

The Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp butter, unsalted
  • 80 large marshmallows
  • 12 c. crispy rice cereal
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 c. white chocolate chips
  • Heart-shaped sprinkles

The How-To:

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add in the marshmallows and stir continuously until melted and well-mixed. Slowly add in the cereal, stirring continuously for an even mixture.
  2. Spoon the mixture into a heart-shaped cupcake pan coated with non-stick cooking spray. You can also spoon the mixture into a 9 x 13 rectangular glass baking dish and use a cookie cutter to get heart-shaped treats.
  3. Let the treats cool for 5 minutes. Remove the treats from the pan.
  4. Heat the chocolate chips over a double-boiler.
  5. Once the chocolate is thoroughly melted, dip the face of each of the rice crispy treats into the chocolate. Immediately dust with sprinkles and let the chocolate harden.

This recipe makes about 12 treats—and is so easy for the kids to help with!

Hot Chocolate Spoons

chocolate spoons
Image courtesy Etsy seller NicolesTreats

Sophie’s girls love to enjoy cozy treats in the winter months. To warm their little hearts, we made customized hot chocolate dipping spoons.

We started with about three cups of milk chocolate chips, which we melted over the double boiler. Next, we dipped pink plastic spoons into the melted chocolate one at a time. Laying the coated spoons on a sheet of wax paper, we had each partygoer sprinkle a few spoons with mini marshmallows, heart-shaped sprinkles, and crushed peppermint candies. We let the spoons sit for about 15 minutes before wrapping each in a plastic sleeve tied with string.

For the class party, we picked up a jumbo-sized box of hot chocolate mix, and one of the parents volunteered to bring in her electric kettle. The students had a blast watching the chocolate melt in their cocoa, releasing marshmallows and sprinkles into their mugs.

Loving Fruit Kabobs

It’s not surprising to find yourself surrounded by delicious sweet treats for kids to enjoy at any Valentine’s Day get-together. And while we couldn’t wait to dig into all the sugary goodness at our DIY party, we also thought the parents would appreciate it if we snuck in some healthy snacks, too. Sophie had the wonderful idea of making heart-shaped fruit kabobs.

watermelon hearts
Perfect heart-shaped bites | Image courtesy flick’r user denise carrasco

The Ingredients:

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 honeydew
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 large basket of strawberries
  • 1 bunch of purple grapes
  • A heart-shaped cookie cutter
  • Kabob skewers

The How-To:

  1. Start by cutting the melons into triangular slices. From the triangles, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many pieces as you can.
  2. Peel and core the pineapple. Cut the pineapple into 1-inch slices. Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to remove heart-shaped pineapple pieces.
  3. Wash the strawberries and pull off the stems and leaves. Using a paring knife, cut a V into the top of each strawberry. Cut the strawberry in half from top to bottom so you’re left with two strawberry halves, each shaped like a heart.
  4. Push a kabob skewer through one of each of the different fruit pieces.
  5. Wash the grapes. Cover the pointed end of each skewer with one grape.

We kept the skewers chilled in the refrigerator until the Valentine’s Day party. The heart-shaped pieces were so cute, the students didn’t even seem to notice they were eating something healthy!

Valentines Crafted from the Heart

With the snacks made and looking enticingly delicious, we turned our attention to the actual valentines themselves. Sure, it’s easier to grab a box of pre-made Valentine’s Day cards from a shelf, but that misses the point of Valentine’s Day. We wanted to bring the good ol’ days of construction paper hearts and gluing on glitter to our modern kids.

Each party attendee brought one treat ingredient and one item for the valentines craft table, so we ended up with a great mixture of fun items including:

kids' valentine's day diy craft party
Get creative with your valentines this year | Image courtesy flick’r user GlitterandFrills
  • Multi-colored construction paper
  • Ribbon
  • Lace
  • Glitter
  • Buttons
  • Dried pasta
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Yarn
  • Google eyes
  • Markers
  • Crayons
  • Pattern scissors
  • Glue

It was exciting to watch each student come up with his or her own valentine idea and make a unique card for each of their friends. The kids got to show off their creativity and the parents got to enjoy an afternoon getting to know one another and their children’s friends.

Not only was the Valentine’s DIY party a chance to spend quality time hanging out and chatting, but it was a time to get creative and enjoy the spirit of the holiday. Sophie later told me how each of the students eagerly presented their handmade card to their friends while devouring our treats, and I hear her kids (and their friends) are already clamoring for a similar party this year.

Want more ideas on how to make Valentine’s Day extra special this year? Let the Elves help you get creative and gift straight from the heart with their downloadable coupon printables. Get even more ideas on our Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster

The Year of the Rooster: A Traditional Chinese New Year Celebration for 2017

The Year of the Rooster: A Traditional Chinese New Year Celebration for 2017

chinese new year dragon
Chinese New Year, an exciting celebration | Image courtesy flick’r user Andrew Smithson

A few years ago, my college pal Amanina, known as Amy to her American classmates, wasn’t able to make it home to Malaysia for Chinese New Year. She was clearly bummed—it’s the most important day of her year, a celebration of family and a chance to make way for new luck and opportunities—so I decided to bring home to her with a Chinese New Year-inspired surprise party.

I started with very little knowledge about Chinese New Year, or its traditions, but I can confidently say I could now throw a mean traditional celebration—anytime, anywhere. Amy was touched by the gesture, and it turned into one of my most memorable nights from my college days as well.

2017’s lunar new year, or “Spring Festival,” falls on January 28th, so start gathering family and friends together to prepare your own celebration. Take some inspiration from my impromptu party and learn how to make Chinese New Year festivities a new addition to your yearly celebrations, wherever you call home.

Decor to Create Chinese-Inspired Ambiance

rooster print
2017, the Year of the Rooster | Image courtesy Etsy seller Thenobleowl

Arms loaded full of red—the luckiest color according to Chinese tradition—I rushed home from the local Asian market to get started decorating. I knew the best way to surprise Amy would be a community room decked out in full Chinese celebratory fashion, instead of with the usual motivational posters and pinboards found on our dorm walls.

I filled the room with a truly jaw-dropping amount of red paper decor, stringing up red lanterns in various sizes and making sure to hang one in front of the door—a symbol of good fortune. I also roped my friends into making several long red paper chains to drape throughout the room, just like the strips of glued paper we made as kids at Christmas time, and I covered all of our dining surfaces with red table cloths we were able to borrow from the dining hall.

As I stood on a ladder hanging lanterns, I ruminated on the zodiac symbolism of this holiday—the Chinese calendar is based on a 12-year cycle, each year featuring an animal from rabbits to dragons to pigs. I made sure roosters, the symbol for 2017, were displayed prominently in our table decor to represent talent, confidence, and resourcefulness. Apparently, as I was born in a rooster year, 2017 will be particularly unlucky for me, as is the color red—I was definitely a little extra cautious up on that ladder!

Delicious Dishes to Savor

Symbolizing family closeness, the New Year’s Eve dinner is considered the most important meal of the year. I was determined to honor this tradition for Amy, but because I can barely boil lo mein noodles, I picked up some traditionally prepared dishes at the Asian market for us to enjoy together:

  • Two broiled fish in broth to signify prosperity and surplus
  • Long noodles to bring long life
  • Spring rolls to invite new wealth
  • Mandarin oranges, with stems and leaves, as a wish for wholeness
  • Tangyuan, or sweet rice dessert balls, to honor family and togetherness
dumplings
Dumplings, eaten to symbolize wealth | Image courtesy flick’r user Alpha

While I wanted to surprise Amy, I also wanted to involve her in the traditional preparations, a big part of the fun, so I asked if she would teach us all how to make traditional Chinese dumplings to celebrate prosperity during our celebration. I had grabbed 50 pre-made dumpling wrappers at the market, as well as some basic ingredients, so Amy taught us her grandmother’s method for pinching the wrappers the exact right number of times to prevent poverty in the year ahead. She also slipped a copper penny into one of the dumplings—whoever ate it would be charmed with extra wealth.

Filling Ingredients: 1 pound ground meat, 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 egg, beaten, 2 tbl chopped green onions, 1 ½ tbl sesame oil, 1 tbl freshly grated ginger

Sauce Ingredients: ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tbl vinegar, 1 tbl chopped green onions, 1 tbl sesame seeds, 1 tsp Sriracha (or to taste)

Amy’s Lucky Chinese Dumplings:

  1. Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for serving.
  2. Mix filling ingredients together in a large bowl. Don’t forget to add a penny!
  3. Lightly flour your work surface, put down a wrapper, and place one tablespoon of filling in the middle.
  4. Wet the edge of the wrapper with water and fold in half to create a half-moon shape. Pinch the edges to create a few pleats and seal the dumpling closed. Repeat for the rest of the wrappers.
  5. Lightly oil a large skillet over medium heat. Place 10 dumplings in the skillet and brown for 2 minutes each side. Pour in a cup of water and cover the skillet, cooking until tender, about 5 minutes or until the meat inside is fully cooked. Repeat for the rest of the dumplings.
  6. Serve dumplings with the prepared dipping sauce. The more you eat, the more wealthy you’ll supposedly become in the new year!

Traditional Activities That Bond

red envelopes
Red envelopes for the Chinese New Year gift exchange | Image courtesy Etsy seller PaperAlter

Massive paper dragons prowling down the street to the steady pounding of the drum, firecrackers snapping all around, and fireworks bursting into color in the sky above—this is the backdrop to a traditional Chinese New Year. Celebrating outside of China isn’t quite as loud or all-encompassing for the senses, but I did replicate the cheerful atmosphere with some favorite CNY activities.

Gift giving to children and grandparents is tradition—usually winter clothes, home goods, or simply cash inside red envelopes. This gift exchange practice was so iconic, it had to be part of our night. College students don’t have much spare cash, so I left a handful of red envelopes on a table with blank papers and a pen. We all wrote appreciative notes for each other, then exchanged our envelopes but, in the Chinese fashion, waited until after the party to open them—Amy told us it’s actually considered rude to open a gift in front of the giver. She also explained that you don’t want to appear greedy, so should politely try to refuse a gift at first.

In lieu of fireworks and firecrackers, which we would never have gotten away with on our college campus, we adapted a British custom and crafted these DIY table crackers instead:

tabletop firecrackers
Use party crackers in place of firecrackers | Image courtesy Etsy seller souvenirsuitcase

The Materials:

  • Red paper, 8 ½ x 11
  • Cracker snaps
  • Ribbon
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Small trinkets, candies, fortunes, or jokes

The How-To:

  1. Place a cracker snap along one long edge of the red paper and glue or tape it securely into place to make sure it will make a sound when the cracker is pulled
  2. Line up three paper rolls end-to-end, wrapping the red paper tightly around them. Secure in place with tape in the center—the outer rolls are merely to help the paper hold its shape during the next step.
  3. Slightly pull one outer roll away to create a gap, tying a ribbon tightly in the space between the two rolls you just created. Remove the outer roll from that side.
  4. Drop some goodies into the open end of the cracker and tie the other neck with ribbon. Remove the toilet paper roll from that side, and you’re finished!

Pulling these crackers will ring in the year with a bang—without setting off any fire alarms. I’d definitely recommend making a handful for you and your friends to enjoy at your own celebration to replicate the soundscape of celebratory China.

Chinese New Year is a meaningful, ancient holiday that has been bringing families and communities together since the Shang Dynasty of 1766 BC. From symbolic imagery to color choices, gift giving and auspicious dishes, it’s been celebrated with the same traditional festivities for centuries, even surviving a ban by Mao Zedong in 1967. And giving my friend Amy a little taste of home during her year abroad definitely got my new year off to an exciting start, setting off my own year CNY traditions I observe each January, wherever I’m currently calling home.

Looking for other thoughtful ideas to bring joy to those around you? Let the elves help with creative party ideas for every occasion, year-round. Find exciting ways to celebrate by following our Facebook page, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster.

The Legendary Saint of Love: Honoring the History and Traditions of Valentine’s Day

The Legendary Saint of Love: Honoring the History and Traditions of Valentine’s Day

pink heart cloud
Valentine’s Day takes on new meaning | Image courtesy flick’r user Maf04

Around the year 270 A.D., Emperor Claudius II decided that men would make better fighters if they were unwed, so he outlawed marriage for any potential soldier. Seeing this as a crime against humanity—and love—Saint Valentine secretly performed marriages for young men and their lovers. Infuriated, Emperor Claudius II had St. Valentine thrown into jail and sentenced to a horrible death, which was carried out on February 14th, according to legend.

As the wife of a former Airman, I’m personally grateful for Saint Valentine’s dedication to unifying soldiers with their true and forever loves. His brave actions protecting the freedom to marry and love turned him into a martyr. To honor his heroic story, we celebrate Valentine’s Day each year with simple, but meaningful traditions that carry on his mission of putting true love above all else.

The Beauty of the Written Word

handwritten note
A gorgeous love letter to mark the occasion | Image courtesy Etsy seller MedievalJourney

Sentenced to death for his devotion to the young couples in his community, Saint Valentine spent many months in jail awaiting his execution. All the while, he never forgot the importance of love.

Legend claims that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter who would visit him in his jail cell. Though he was destined for death, she unswervingly gave her heart to him. In return, he wrote her beautiful love notes signed, “from your Valentine.”

Inspired by Saint Valentine’s sweet gesture, the only thing he had to offer his beloved, I wanted to give my valentine a memento that would endure through time as well. I wrote out a love letter and had it transcribed in old calligraphy on vintage paper. Not only is it a message from my heart, but even its appearance speaks to the strength of our love as a promise that will last through the ages.

A Medieval Feast for Lovers

Saint Valentine’s story has survived more than 1,700 years because a single man taught the world that love should always come first. As the tale of his life, and death, spread throughout Western Europe, inspiring everyone who believed in true love, Saint Valentine became the leader of a movement with an enormous following, despite his cruel sentence and execution. To honor his unceasing dedication to star-crossed lovers, friends and families across the European continent would gather each year to celebrate kindness and love with a massive feast in the middle of February.

To honor that age-old tradition, I thought it would be fitting for my love and me to have our own Valentine’s Day feast in the form of a romantic, home-cooked meal—something that our busy schedules rarely allow for. I wanted to maintain the theme of honoring the days of old, so I designed the meal with ancient dishes in mind—a honeyed capon, black bread, buttered carrots, iced blueberries in sweet cream for dessert, and, of course, red wine.

valentine's day dinner
A romantic Valentine’s Day feast | Image courtesy flick’r user Matheusswanson

The honeyed capon was a first for me—and certainly set the Medieval mood. A capon is a domesticated rooster, with a similar taste and texture to chicken. They’re available in most specialty meat shops here in Texas where my husband and I live, but if you’re unable to find one at your local shop, a chicken makes a perfect substitute.

The Ingredients:

  • A whole capon, about 6 pounds
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 c. apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ c. honey
  • 2 tsp fresh mint, chopped
  • ½ c. currants or raisins
  • Salt

The Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450-degrees F
  2. Place the capon in a roasting pan, rubbing the outside with 2 tbs of the unsalted butter, melted, before sprinkling with salt.
  3. Put the capon in the oven for 60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers at least 165-degrees F. The juices should run clear when the thermometer is removed.
  4. While the capon is roasting, prepare the sauce. Combine the remaining 1 tbs unsalted butter, apple cider vinegar, honey, mint, and currants in a saucepan. Allow the sauce to simmer about 20-30 minutes, reducing to about half its original volume. The currants will plump up and the sauce will become thick.
  5. Once the capon is done, brush half of the sauce over the outside of the capon. Let the capon rest for about 5 minutes while the sauce forms a glaze.
  6. Carve the breast meat and serve it with a dollop of the remaining sauce.

Not only does a rustic meal remind me of the early days of the holiday, but it makes the occasion extra special. It’s not every day that I roast a capon in the Medieval tradition!

A Quote from One of the Greats

neruda quote framed
The perfect quote transformed into a romantic keepsake | Image courtesy Etsy seller EunoiaStudios

Love is such a complex emotion that requires a master wordsmith to explain. As the traditions inspired by Saint Valentine’s devotion grew in popularity over the decades, the importance of the holiday spread to the nobility. Before long, kings began hiring writers to compose sweetly worded notes to their lovers.

When I have a hard time finding the right words for everything I’m feeling, I, like the kings of yesteryear, turn to some of the greatest romance writers of the past few centuries. The poetic voices of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few, have immortalized some of the most vivid love stories ever told.

This year, instead of buying a card off the shelf, I chose a heartwarming quote from one of the great romance poets of all time—Pablo Neruda. Using some heavy card stock in a sepia tone color, I wrote my chosen quote in my own handwriting, signing it at the bottom. I placed it in a simple black frame and set it on the dinner table to serve as my Valentine’s Day card—and a deep statement of my love.

Love Is All Around

As the story goes, during the early years of the Valentine’s Day festivals and feasts, young Roman women would write their names on slips of paper and toss them into a giant urn. The young men would then choose a name from the urn at random. The matched pair would get to know each other for a year, often resulting in marriage. I love this idea of leaving matches up to fate, so I thought it would be fun to organize a friends-focused version of the Roman tradition in the form of a gift exchange.

wood heart sign
Here’s to a magical Valentine’s Day | Image courtesy Etsy seller SplendorInTheRough

We used an online gift exchange site to help us randomly pick names and, after Valentine’s Day, we all got together at my house for coffee and pastries—and to swap stories of our most romantic moments, as well as our gifts.

The gifts were small, but meaningful, many handmade. It was a wonderful time for us to show each other that even though we all get distracted by the great loves in our lives from time to time, we should always make the extra effort to show our appreciation for our friends, our pillars of support through it all.

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day—wondering if I’ll get surprised with flowers or trying not to get caught sneaking a little love note into my husband’s lunch box. But getting to know the history of St. Valentine’s Day has made it all the more meaningful for me. It’s no longer a Hallmark holiday for me—it represents the importance of taking a moment to acknowledge all the love in my daily life, amongst my friends, and in today’s complex society.

Valentine’s Day was born out of a desperate need to save the practice of marriage for couples who were deeply in love. Saint Valentine valued companionship and true devotion more than his own life, continuing to live with an open heart until his final days, despite a promise of certain death. With the many lessons on love that make up his story fresh in my mind, I plan to celebrate every Valentine’s Day with a deep sense of thankfulness, compassion, and hope towards all my relationships, from friends to family to my one true love.

Want more ideas on how to make Valentine’s Day spectacular for you and your beloved? Let the Elves help find the perfect gift or download our free printable coupons for a gift straight from the heart. Get even more ideas on our Facebook page, on Instagram @Elfstergram, and on Twitter @Elfster

Hit Rewind: A New Year’s Eve Party That Turns Back Time

Hit Rewind: A New Year’s Eve Party That Turns Back Time

Rifling through a box that I’ve yet to unpack in the two years since buying our home, I pull out a stack of old photos from my high school days. I can’t help but wonder how time possible could have passed so quickly. As I pull a second handful of pictures from the box, a few CDs become visible—and they give me a brilliant idea for ringing in the new year with a trip down memory lane.

With photographic proof of my past stylish decades in hand, and tunes from 1993 blaring out of my stereo speakers, I conjure up a plan for a New Year’s Eve party that will hit the rewind button, if only for the night. My friends and I will revel in the past before stepping into the future unknowns of 2017.

An Invitation to Travel Back in Time

new year's eve party invite
An time traveling invitation | Image courtesy Etsy seller DebsPrintables

Along with an invitation to join me for the traditional countdown to the new year, I posed a challenge to my friends to see if they could show up dressed as they would today, and bring along a few simple items that could easily transform their look to fit a trend rocked in every decade from 2000 all the way back to 1970.

My best friend from grade school, Vanessa, helped me come up with the timeline for the night:

  • 7:00pm: Guests are to arrive and live it up in the now, i.e 2016.
  • 8:00pm: Time starts to slip backward, and we find ourselves in 2010.
  • 9:00pm: Another decade falls away and it’s 2000. Y2K 2.0 anyone?
  • 10:00pm: We’re partying like it’s 1990 (through ‘99).
  • 11:00pm: Suddenly, the scene is 1980—and we’re living in a material world (and I am a material girl).
  • Midnight: Happy 2017—or is it? 1970 lives again as we celebrate the new year as happy little hippies!

Attire That Rings in Each Era of Fun

Coming up with a great outfit for a themed event can be almost as fun as the party itself. So figuring out six looks for our time warp New Year’s Eve celebration really spread that fun all through the month leading up to the big day. I settled on a stretchy black maxi skirt paired with a simple white cami and shimmery silver cardigan that is comfy for dancing, but stylish enough for an evening partying with friends—and can be altered in any number of ways, depending on the decade.

For my first fashion switch-up of the night, I channeled my early 2000s self and swapped my silver cardigan for a velour zip-up hoody, pinning my hair up with a few butterfly clips. When the 90’s rolled around, the velour was traded out for a well-worn band tee and flannel, and my hair was let loose according to the 90s grunge fad.

neon bracelets
Bright accessories of days past | Image courtesy Amazon seller Super Z Outlet

To bring my outfit even further back to the 80s, the flannel and tee became a slouchy sweater worn off one shoulder. I also folded my skirt up and pulled on a pair of leg warmers and neon tennis shoes. Of course, I throw my hair into a side pony and add a couple jelly bracelets from my purse to finish off the ensemble. Finally, by pulling my maxi dress up over my bustline, removing my sweater and cami, and adding a fringe scarf at my waist, some chunky heels, circle shades, and a few colorful beaded necklaces, I’m suddenly 70s Boho-chic.  

And I have to throw a little praise at Andrew for the creative way he turned his attire of a pair of blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt into outfits that completely took us back in time. His addition of a Von Dutch trucker hat and pyramid studded belt for the early 2000s were replaced by a color blocked shirt the Fresh Prince himself would’ve envied in the 90s, buttoned only at the top. A lime green windbreaker, and coordinating neon visor, topped his newly cuffed jeans when he switched into 80s mood, and he finished out the night in a 70s’ striped brown and green sweater vest and loafers that I can only imagine lived in his father’s closet for the last 45 years since they were so spot on for the decade.

Foods of Parties Past

Needless to say, all of our wardrobe changes were pretty comical to watch, and all that laughter had us working up an appetite. So I laid out a spread spanning the decades with flavor trends that have stood out over the years.

fondue
Retro grub to fuel the party | Image courtesy flick’r user Krista

Appetizers ranged from the potato skins and mozzarella sticks of now, to fondue, pickle roll-ups, and jello molds that were the groovy way to snack at parties in the past. The 80s nods of Dunkaroo dip and Sloppy Joe sliders will disappear quicker than 2016, knowing how much my buddies Emma and Steve from high school loved the lunchroom classics back in the day.

Our dessert for the night was straight from the 70s and a huge hit for its miniature size: individual pineapple upside-down cakes that I made in a cupcake tin.

 

 

 

To make these delicious disco-era treats, I rounded up:

  • A box of yellow cake mix, oil, and eggs—as instructed on the box
  • One stick of butter, softened
  • One packed cup of brown sugar
  • A can of pineapple rings in juice (drained, but juice saved and set to the side)
  • A small jar of stemless maraschino cherries

The baking instructions are fast and easy to follow:

  1. Preheat oven to the temperature listed on the box for cupcakes.
  2. Mix up the cake batter, substituting the water for the pineapple juice that we set aside.
  3. In a separate small bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter, and divide into the bottoms of each cup evenly.
  4. Press a pineapple ring into the sugar mixture of each cupcake and add a cherry to the center of the ring.
  5. Pour the cake batter over the pineapples, filling each cup by about a two-thirds.
  6. Bake according to the cupcake instructions on the cake box
  7. Once cooled, flip the pan and remove the cakes to reveal their cute, decorative tops.

Music That Moves Us Through the Decades

With each hour that passes, taking us closer to the midnight countdown, a scene-setting playlist of music to cue the “current” decade will start, as we mingle and munch treats. Top 40 hits of today will ignite the night as my guests arrive, excited to share our plans for the new year ahead. As we get closer to saying “Bye Bye Bye” to 2016 and shift into the hits of the early 2000s, appetizers and champagne will “Get the Party Started” during cocktail hour.

decades of music
Anthems of the decades | Image courtesy Target

I’ll be breaking out a karaoke mic so everyone can sing along as we rock the 90s anthems—Vanessa and I will be taking center stage in flannel and matching Nirvana tees when our favorite Alanis Morissette tracks play, and I’m positive every lyric will come to me just as naturally as they did back in high school.

With the clock nearing the stroke of midnight, we’ll “Bust a Move,” throw on our neon LA Gears, and dance like we’re part of a “Rhythm Nation” to more unforgettable jams from the 80s until the ball drops, taking us back to our final destination of the 70s for a little dessert and disco. We’ll welcome in 2017 while doing the “Hustle” and our best Soul Train moves in our fringe vests and flowery headbands.

Our journey through the music and fashion of the past decades winds down as we wish each other a happy New Year and applaud the fashion morphing skills we witnessed throughout the night. Getting to relive the tastes, trends, and musical greatness of our pasts made finally unpacking that random box of memories totally worthwhile. And now we’re all energized to step into the future, where new memories are waiting for us all.

Want to travel back in time as you celebrate the New Year? Allow the Elves to usher you through the trends of the past with our retro gifting guides. Find party ideas that will have you dancing through the decades on our Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.