A friend cleaned out her cookbook collection before moving out of town, and she left me with 11 boxes of treasures that I’ve been going through them now for months. In one was a slender volume with a gorgeous cover featuring a handful of youngsters partying with Father Time, an Easter bunny, jack-o-lanterns, a witch and, of course, Santa Claus.
It’s called “Children’s Party Book: Games, Decorations, Menus and Recipes,” and it was written by Cornelia Staley. It was published in 1935, and each copy sold for the then-princely sum of 25 cents. A quick glance through it suggests a much simpler time. Much simpler than I can ever remember. Can you think back to a time when you taught your children how to write their own party invitations by hand, such as this one from the book’s premier party girl, Barbara Smith?
Buy tiny horns, attach a tag and write on it:
“Blow me at my New Year’s Party.” I do hope you can come. Wednesday, January 1, at 3:30 o’clock.
— Barbara Smith
Each occasion, from birthday to New Year’s, includes games suggestions far removed from the world of Xbox and World of Warcraft, such as this one for Halloween:
Bowls of Fortune
Place in a row an empty bowl, a bowl of clear water and one of milky water. Each child in turn is blindfolded, turned about three times and told to put on hand in a bowl. If the child touches clear water, it means marriage to a bachelor or maiden — milky water, a widower or widow — the empty bowl, unmarried.
There are even tips on planning the appropriate decorations, including hanging groups of pastel colored balloons from your chandelier for an Easter party.
For the Christmas party, Barbara Smith has learned that “Gay Christmas seals on white, red or green cards will make your invitation gala.” And she suggests you use greeting: “School’s out! Let’s celebrate the Happy Holidays at my house on Thursday from 3 to 5.”
If you can make it, expect as many red and green balloons tied to the Smith home’s chandelier. But don’t expect Barbara and her party crew to stop there. Here are Staley’s suggestions for table decorations:
Cover your table in white, and for a centerpiece dip a fat little Christmas tree in a thin solution of Staley’s Starch. While still moist, sprinkle it generously with artificial snow or silver glitter. Hang red and green balls on it. Have a small tree at each place and a suitable gift gaily wrapped and tied to the stick of a lollipop.
Game ideas include Spider Web, Pin a Star on the Christmas Tree, Paper Race and Chinese Tag, in which “any child who is ‘it’ must hold on to the spot he has been tagged with one hand while trying to tag another child with the other.” How that makes it Chinese is anybody’s guess.
The suggested menu for all this fun includes Minced Turkey or Chicken Sandwiches, Tiny Molds of Cranberry Jelly, Celery Curls, Hot Chocolate, Ice Cream Santa Claus, Snowballs and Lollypops.
Yes, you can make your own Lollypops, and Cornelia Staley offers her own recipe, which naturally uses Staley’s Crystal White Syrup. In case you can’t find that, white corn syrup will work as a substitute.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2/3 cup Staley’s Crystal White Syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Red vegetable coloring
Cook sugar, water and syrup until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Then cover and boil 3 minutes. Remove cover and boil undisturbed to 310 degrees or the brittle stage. Remove from heat at once, add vanilla and coloring. Pour into small buttered muffin tins 1/2-inch deep, and when almost cool, insert a wooden skewer in each.
Makes 2 dozen, 2 inches in diameter.
From “Children’s Party Book: Games, Decorations, Menus and Recipes”/Cornelia Staley
Serve your lollipops up with the following joke from Staley:
Why are lollipops like race horses?
Because the more you lick them, the faster they go.
If that’s not enough fun for your Christmas party, have the kids make Dried Fruit and Nut Men: “Funny figures can be made just as easily with fruits and nuts as with candies. Large fruits, such as prunes, are used for heads and bodies, toothpicks for legs and raisins strung on hairpins for arms.”
As silly as it sounds, I think that’s an activity adults would enjoy as much as children. Everyone loves playing with food that they can then eat, even prunes.
Staley’s goal in Depression America was to show people how their children could have some fun and good food — and for not much money. It’s a goal that carries through to today. After all, it’s not the cost of the party, but the good time that people have at it that matters.