On a quiet suburban street in Reseda, the faint sound of the "Harry Potter" theme song floats in the air outside a 1959 tract home. The house would be easy to miss if not for a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry façade out front, complete with the Hogwarts coat of arms and winged warthogs.
Welcome to Christmas at Hogwarts, Sikoki Layton and Richard Gonzales' latest chapter in their family's long-running holiday tradition. But unlike the fictional Harry Potter series, there are no Death Eaters or Dementors here, only the magic they have created for their friends and family.
"We just have a humble house in the Valley, but we try to make it much grander at Christmas time," says Layton. "For me, it's like reinventing Christmas, or reimagining what Christmas can be."
For 17 years, the couple have hosted a themed gingerbread house-making party on the first Saturday in December. But each party gets a creative, decorative twist.
Previous parties have included a geisha affair with a 12-foot high torii gate, a Moroccan motif with flowing gold fabric and bohemian lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and a medieval party where guests were welcomed by 16-foot turrets and a draw bridge.
To prepare for this year's get-together, the couple re-watched all eight Harry Potter films in chronological order and visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studio for inspiration.
After they decided on a theme (from 29 assorted ideas) in September, Layton, who has a background in theater, worked nightly to transform the house into the fictional Hogwarts.
"My dad was a building contractor," Layton says. "I can go from a sewing machine to a cement mixer in minutes."
To make the living room feel like the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Layton hung 50 candles from the ceiling that he made from PVC pipe. Flaming cauldrons from a Halloween store serve as moody sconces, and circular candelabras he made from bendable garden siding are decorated with festive foliage, candles and, of course, owls.
Muslin stretched over stage flats is made to look like stained glass windows with the emblem of the four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Layton also built and installed faux fireplace facades over the existing fireplaces.
At this year's party, Layton placed 24 gingerbread houses on two tables, along with bags of sugar, marshmallows, gummy bears, pretzels, icing and anything else he could find at a 99 cent store.
"It looks like tract housing when people arrive and by the end of the evening, there are no two alike," he says.
Even the Christmas tree is decked out with Harry Potter-themed ornaments including handmade golden snitches, Professor McGonagall hats and phone booths.
Outfitted in robes and armed with goblets of Butterbeer, the couple welcomed their guests, who either mingled or got down to decorating right away.
For his part as chef, Gonzales consulted the Harry Potter books for food references.
There was "mandrake potting soil" in ceramic pots, bangers and mash, and rhubarb crumble with custard for dessert.
"I Googled 'food that looks like dirt,' " Gonzales says with a laugh of his mandrake potting soil.
Before the party, Layton baked six gingerbread houses a day so the walls and roof had time to firm up before the party. He placed each gingerbread house on a gift-wrapped board for portability and then boxed them up for each guest at the end of the night.
The idea for the party arose when the couple was on tour with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.
"We were riding on a bus talking about holiday traditions," Layton says. "It was so heartwarming listening to others' traditions. We thought it would be so much fun to host our own. It grew from there."
After they retired from the chorus a few years ago, the party became a way to reconnect with friends and family.
"Sikoki and Richard are the most amazing and creative hosts I know," says friend and former chorus member Carl Haley. "Their house is always full of love and joy."
This year, the couple will host five more parties for their extended family — with more than 30 sitting down together at a time.
Asked about the laborious process, they both laughed.
"I think Sikoki has more fun than I do," Gonzales says.
That's because the party has become more than just an event.
"It's hard to see people on a regular basis," Layton says. "For us, it's a holiday tradition not so much about the gingerbread but about having people come together and keep the friendships strong."
It's also a way to create some holiday magic.
"It's our gift to the people we love," Layton says. "I want everyone to feel like they've been transported to a magical time and place."
Do you deck the halls like nobody's business? Is your house the house for Hanukkah? Do you throw a cookie swap party that shuts down through-traffic? We want to hear how you celebrate the holidays. In no more than 150 words, email us at email@example.com to tell us about your traditions. Include up to three photos, if you have them. And don't forget to include your name and a daytime phone number so we can reach you. We just may include you and yours in an upcoming Saturday section.
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