I used a simple email invitation this year. In the past I have handed out train tickets with party information printed on them, as well as inviting guests to come in pajamas.
Along with an array of snacks, one thing that cannot be left out is the hot chocolate! With younger children, I would stick to slightly sweetened milk, light on the chocolate. The older kids get the Hot Chocolate Bar: a station filled with sprinkles, marshmallows, whipped cream, peppermint sticks, syrups, candied orange peels, and such. They usually put more time into this activity than any of the others!
Read the book!
When everyone is ready with their snacks and hot chocolate, it is time to get on the train and delve into the Polar Express world. Setting up chairs or blankets on the floor, and punching tickets for those seated, have been a good way to get children to transition to the reading. The pictures are engaging enough to create some great conversations during the story, so don’t be shy about stopping to discuss and enjoy!
Sleigh Bell Necklaces
Take a string of leather, ribbon, or other cord to string on their ticket, sleigh bell, beads, and any other nifty paraphernalia you have.
Make Christmas Cards
With supplies of cardstock, scissors, markers, and stickers, allow each child to make a holiday card or letter to Santa.
Watch the Movie
I generally save this for the last activity for two reasons: 1) To allow families that do not wish to watch the movie a chance to participate before leaving and 2) to allow us some down time to end the event. The movie does have some intense scenes that are not depicted in the book, so I would suggest making sure parents know the movie before allowing their child to watch.
My biggest goal of the party is to create a warm, peaceful environment for the kids to enjoy while giving parents a chance to relax and savor some of the holiday spirit many of us work so hard to provide, but sometimes miss out on ourselves.