“We’ve got another goody basket to give out, with stuff from Galveston Candle Company,” said Haley Brown over the microphone. She was announcing the winner of one of the Hogwarts Christmas Village & Holiday Market raffles, of which there would be five during the four-hour event. She stood in front of a piece of plywood painted to look like Platform 9¾ at London’s Kings Cross station, and she was wearing denim shortalls and a scarlet T-shirt that signified she was a Gryffindor. “Looks like we’ve got something in here from the Forbidden Forest,” she said excitedly. “And we’ve got a breast sling from a wonderful lactation consultant that’s here today, selling goodies for those new moms.”
Brown was the brain and brawn behind the Hogwarts Christmas Village & Holiday market, a fund-raising event hosted by gastrochurch. The local organization hosts dinner parties at which guests discuss “spiritual things over really good food” (while many religious communities are anti–Harry Potter, gastrochurch prides itself on being more laid-back and modern). The Facebook page for the event had promised an “entire village of Christmas and Harry Potter-themed awesomeness,” though it was really about two dozen canopy tents taking up maybe half of Galveston’s Kempner Park. Each tent had a different vendor in it, some of which were Harry Potter–specific vendors, selling wands, quills, and something called a “sorting candle,” which would reveal the color of your house once lit. Others were just local artisans offering everything from crocheted stuffed animals to graphic-designed thermoses to sleep shirts with sayings like “I need a holiday” and “But first, presents.” A Webster company called Storm Tight Windows of Texas even had a tent, though it was not very well trafficked.
Though Hogwarts is a thousand-year-old (fake) wizarding school in the Scottish Highlands that famously sees cold and snowy winters, this Galveston iteration took place amidst temps in the high seventies, with what felt like 1,000 percent humidity. Though the air was stickier than the golden syrup of a treacle tart, a few brave souls stayed committed to the wizard bit, cloaked in floor-dusting black robes that displayed their preferred house colors (red and gold for Gryffindor, green and silver for Slytherin, black and yellow for Hufflepuff, and blue and bronze for Ravenclaw). But most of us, like Brown, were in shorts.
Inside the park’s Garten Verein, a gorgeous tiered dance hall that is almost 150 years old, were representatives from fake wizard businesses that were supposed to be even older. There was a table for Ollivanders, a “wand shop” where attendees could purchase handmade Christmas ornaments or hand-whittled wands. Guests could play Harry Potter trivia at the Flourish and Blotts booth, a stand-in for the Diagon Alley bookstore where Harry and his cohort buy all their textbooks. (Trivia points could be won for each player’s house, and by the time I left, the Hufflepuffs had a sizable lead.) There was a little stand for Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, which had some standard carnival games, and a stand for famed wizard candy store Honeydukes (from which I didn’t buy any chocolate frogs but did get a sack full of saltwater taffy). At the center stage was one of Brown’s fellow gastrochurch volunteers, Dan, who would place a makeshift sorting hat upon any guest who wanted it.
Aside from one coffee shop that had to be moved when its food truck broke down, all the vendors inside the Garten Verein were volunteers for gastrochurch. This was the sixth year the organization had held some type of Harry Potter–themed fundraiser, though it was the first time it wouldn’t be in the form of a formal “Yule Ball.” The holiday market was only added last year, and while gastrochurch had intended to do both, it didn’t sell enough tickets early on to make the ball worth it. Nevertheless, spirits were high among volunteers, vendors, and guests. There were, as you can imagine, a lot of families, gastrochurch and not—millennial parents sharing their Harry Potter fandom with the next generation. The line at the tent selling butterbeer was consistently long, and outlets were running out of their wand inventories.
Many of the Harry Potter–specific vendors said this event was one of several they attend year-round, setting up shop at the various Renaissance fairs and comic cons in the Southeast Texas area. In addition to Hogwarts goodies, attendees could pick up gilded prop knives and wood carvings of twenty-sided Dungeons and Dragons dice or of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. One tent was selling wax diffusers and a hundred or so different scents, including Nightmare Before Christmas and Scooby-Doo themed aromas, whatever those mean. Kids ran around in costume shouting “expecto patronum” and “expelliarmus.” Others chomped delightedly on grilled sausage and/or big fat turkey legs. I saw one sultry teen dressed in head-to-toe Slytherin gear and decided that attendee was my favorite. There was something for everyone, and while it hardly felt like a Christmastime stroll through Hogsmeade, the Muggles seemed happy.