Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Night Circus Theme Party

Now that I'm with my wonderful little seven-month-old for ten hours a day, I knew I wouldn't have the time or energy to do a big Halloween party. Instead, I hosted a book club theme party/discussion about Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus!

(My sweetie pie at The Night Circus)

Morgenstern's debut novel contains some of the most amazing descriptions I've read, so I couldn't wait to try to bring it to life. This is the kind of theme I could really go wild with, but I set some limits and tried to get the most bang for my buck in a smaller space (just the basement), by doing one really big set up, dessert only (not a meal), and a couple of small displays on the way into the "circus". 

This party was about a week in the making. Hope you find some ideas here and that you enjoy Morgenstern's beautiful book as much as our book club did!


For the invites, I drew a circus tent on the front of white cards and kept the inside as simple as possible. In the book, Circus devotees would sometimes receive notice of the Circus's arrival via a simple message of "The circus is coming." If they were lucky there might be a place mentioned. 


"Le Cirque des Reves" sign. Made by poking white Christmas lights through a piece of black foamboard. This sign hung from the front porch to greet our "reveurs".

Candles lined the stairway to the basement, leading to The Wishing Tree. Guests were invited to light a candle, hang it on the tree, and make a wish. I used a silk ficus tree and electric tea lights with ribbon loops taped to them. 

The Circus! To create the circus, I (with lots of help from The Amazing Mom!) hung strips of black and white crepe paper from the ceiling to create the illusion of a large circus tent. Inside the "big top" was the Night Circus. The Night Circus tents were represented by black and white paper parasols. I got these for $7 each on Amazon ( 

The Food

This was a dessert party--but the novel provided plenty of inspiration for that! Originally, I had wanted to do one of the gourmet Midnight Dinners described in the book. But, as our readership grew from three to nine, I decided to go the dessert route! 

We had Caramel Apples, Caramel Apple Cake, Mini Cinnamon Buns (in place of the Cinnamon Twists in the book), Black and White Cookies (as the Night Circus is all black and white), Vanilla Meringues (they look like tiny circus tents!), Popcorn, and Chocolate Mice (with almond ears and licorice tails, as described in the book). Also, wine, water, and coffee. 

 I found the background picture on the big screen here:

The pictures on the popcorn bags are from the Night Circus Myriorama (Endless Landscape Puzzle) that I drew. Guests received a copy of the Myriorama as parting gifts.

The mold I used for the mice can be found here for $5:
It's actually a mold for chocolate rats, but they look quite mice-like. I used pieces of string licorice instead of the chocolate mold tail, and stuck the ears on later with more melted chocolate. 


The Circus set-up played a practical role as well as a decorative one, by providing us with our discussion questions. Guests were asked to participate in the Night Circus by visiting the different tents to find discussion questions. Each person received an envelope with instructions on how to perform their part in the circus. Tents included . . .

The Snake Charmer: The snake charmer played her pipe to mesmerize the snakes while her assistant fetched the discussion questions from the snake basket. Using black thread, I tied a recorder to the top of the basket lid, and toy snakes to the bottom of the lid. When the charmer raised the recorder, the lid rose with it, and then the snakes followed.

Phrenology: The Phrenologist felt the shape of her client's head to discover her personality traits . . . and a couple discussion questions. I made the phrenology head out of a Styrofoam dummy head. Some of the traits on the head I copied from phrenology heads I found online, others I made up, and in place of traits for two of the spaces I wrote in discussion questions.

Bearded Lady: The bearded lady told her audience about how handy a beard is, and how a bearded lady seldom needs a purse. She proceeded to pull various objects out of her luxuriant beard (pre-attached with bobby pins). She ended by pulling out a discussion question. 

Bedtime Stories, or The Scent Tent: One participant was invited to explore the smells in the scent tent. In two of the containers she found discussion questions. To create the scents, I just used things around the house: cocoa power, vanilla and almond and peppermint extracts, Kalua and coffee, perfume, ground cloves, and a container that had been holding Atomic Fire Balls, and so smelled of cinnamon candy. Our participant was asked to describe what she smelled and any memories those smells conjured.

Hypnosis: Using one of the striped umbrellas, our hypnotist put her subject in a trance, made her walk like a dog, quack and waddle like a duck, and reveal the locations of two discussion questions. 


Guests were invited to dress as reveurs (very dedicated Night Circus followers) in black and white, with a touch of red.

For more Night Circus party ideas, check out the amazing party on this page: