Strega Nona Entertaining: Conjuring Creative Fun

From recipes to rituals, I will kindly divine the perfect celebration for you!

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My Funny Valentine

I realize that many folks feel jaded about Valentine's Day. They see only the commercialized over-production number of it, and forget all about Lupercalia and the mating season for wolves. Perhaps simply because of those latter two facts, I do appreciate the day. It wasn't literally invented by Hallmark in the 20th Century, like Sweetest Day, for Goddess' sake. It can in fact be old-fashioned and sweet – if you enjoy it on your own terms. Please don't let anyone pressure you into dragging your honey to "Fifty Shades of Vanilla," or to blow hundreds at a 10-course meal at the trendiest restaurant, simply because it's the thing to do. In fact, why not do something totally unconventional:

Why not host an old-fashioned Valentine's Day party? You could send out the cute invites to people you'd like to join you – like the ones you exchanged in elementary school. Build some anticipation and surprise about the event. Don't create a page on Facebook. Do it old-school. Don't let anyone know who else will be there ahead of time.

Something that surely is a lost art is the party game. My Gumma gifted me with a delightful book, "The Art of Entertaining," Circa 1935, by M.F. Shelby. She gave it to me because she knew how much I enjoyed to hostess, like herself. I love to refer back to it for offbeat party ideas. These people took their entertaining seriously back in the day! Here is an excerpt for an unusual activity that would be sure to break the ice and get everyone involved:

"'The Knight of the Black Heart' is very jolly game and very popular. Lay as many paper hearts as there are guests, face downward on a table. The face-off one is black. All the others are white, and upon each of them is suggested some laughter-provoking act. The person who receives the black heart is requested to kneel and is dubbed by the leader 'The Knight of the Black Heart' and is bound to obey the behest of each and every lady present. He is at once beset on every side by requests. While he picks up a handkerchief for one, another must be fanned, another asks for a drink of water, another wants a book, a chair, etc. If he fails in any of these duties he must perform the act written upon the injured lady's heart. If he is successful he may confer knighthood upon another."

Kinky, huh? Of course, nowadays you would provide the handkerchief and fan props since most of us don't go around carrying these things in our purses. If you really want to take this kitschy theme and run with it, do it up right. Decorate your place with red streamers, red balloons, red roses. Have the main table done up with a white lacy tablecloth and those little candy hearts strewn all over it. Don the place in red light bulbs and Christmas lights. 

Serve up easy buffet food: finger sandwiches, shrimp cocktail with sauce, chocolate fondue with strawberries, red velvet cupcakes. (There are some great natural recipes out there using beet juice in place of nasty red dye to create this pretty dessert item.) Offer sparkling cranberry juice or a bubbly Lambrusco (Cleto Chiarli is actually quite good) for beverages.

When everyone is feeling fully happy and silly, break out the so-bad-they're-good slow dance tunes and invite everyone to join in. Air Supply, Foreigner, Phil Collins, Bonnie Tyler. Have a cheesy good time with this. I am an 80s gal at heart, and I proudly wear it on my sleeve. After your guests leave you can get up to all that couply stuff, leaving trending to the outside world.



"Valentine Tree with Love Heart," by Ohmega1982 from

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Colleen DuVall has written articles, plays, short films, and a novel. Most recently, her work has been featured in her new blog, Off The Beaten Path for the Shepherd Express online (, and the Wisconsin Life radio show for WPR. She recently adopted a little grey and white cat named Tessa, after beloved 22-year-old Bootise passed on.


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