Deck the (Great) Halls: The mouthwatering magic behind Harry Potter's festive feasts
One hundred juicy roasted turkeys, mountains of boiled potatoes, tureens of buttered peas —it’s easy to imagine a young Harry Potter’s delight (and hunger pangs) when he wandered into the Great Hall during his first holiday season at Hogwarts.
Christmas is one of the more magical elements of the Harry Potter film franchise, but one hungry Hogwartian’s dream can be a prop maker’s nightmare. “It’s a feeling of Oh crap, because you’ve got a big lump of work coming,” says Pierre Bohanna, who worked as a prop maker on all eight Potter films. “But I also get a skip in my step, because it’s a fun challenge.”
While he didn’t have a tireless army of house elves, Bohanna’s prop-making crew — which grew from around 15 to more than 50 people over the course of the franchise — was just as dedicated. Five months before filming began, they reported to the workshop to create snow-covered Christmas trees, holly wreaths, and mistletoe festoons, in addition to the multi-course feasts. For the first Potter film, the team assembled the Christmas feast with entirely edible options (for the most realism possible), but soon realized their mistake. “We discovered, after a day or two, that the smell of real food was a really unpleasant experience,” recalls Bohanna. “So, on Chamber of Secrets, we decided to replicate most of it.”
It was The Goblet of Fire’s Yule Ball, however, that would present a challenge more daunting than any Triwizard task. As one of Hogwarts’ most formal celebrations, the event called for decadent details, like ice-sculpture centerpieces —which numbed the prop team's fingers during setup.
When it came to the menu, despite what they learned on previous movies, the crew was unable to escape using real food entirely. In order to assemble seafood platters (with more elaborate variation than a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans), they crew made overnight molds using real shrimp. “We would have to come back the next day to remove the old, brewing prawns,” Bohanna says. “That’s the real glamour of the film business!” Still, the prop maker believes the payoff is worth the smelly struggle: “Seeing something that convincing on screen —that’s a different type of magic.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone