Friday, January 22, 2010

Throwing a Birthday Party

It's coming up time for my son David's birthday. He's going to be 13 this year - a teenager at last! Thirteen for me always seemed like a major birthday - you're finally a teenager! But in Spanish, there is no X-teen, so 13 isn't really any different than 12 or 14.

David is a shy kid. He doesn't like having a lot of attention on him, so for the last couple of years, he's insisted on not having a birthday party. Fine with me - parties are a pain in the butt and expensive. He's happy for us to have a pizza and pick out a new DVD to watch, or to go to the movies.

Birthday parties for kids here have certain characteristics. First of all, a lot of the parents stay for the whole party, something you need to keep in mind when you're sending out your invitations. Also, they like to bring their little brother or sister.

I was always of the idea that when you throw a party, you put all the snacks in bowls on a table and have little plates where people serve themselves. No. You pass out little plates with a snack on it. Then people keep their little plate or napkin and you walk around the room over and over with the snacks. When you walk by with the potato chips, they take 2 or 3 chips. I think part of the reason for doing this is because (as I learned the hard way) if you put all the snacks out in bowls, the humidity makes them soggy in no time flat. The drinks are handled the same way. People don't choose their drink - they have a cup, and you walk around with a bottle of soda or pitcher of chicha morada and fill their cups. Generally, people accept whatever it is that you pass out. It's considered somewhat rude to NOT accept whatever is offered. Apart from the cake, there are certain foods that are expected - I was surprised to find that I was expected to make and serve Jello. I decided against it, because we were having a birthday cake made from layered jello called 'torta helada'. When my mother in law found out I wasn't going to serve jello, she made some and brought it. Asi es la vida.

Torta Helada

There's also the matter of entertainment. There is almost always entertainment - a clown, a magician or sometimes a 'party cheerleader' with music or a band. The purpose of the entertainment is to lead the party - they usually have a routine of 1 or 2 hours (you arrange the time in advance and pay accordingly) and lead the kids through games, dancing and jokes. Typically, all the kids will be involved in the games and competitions. Prizes - which you must provide - are handed out to the winners. One of the must-haves is a pinata. Although it's a Mexican custom, Peruvians love the pinata too. All the kids have little bags to fill with the toys and candies that fall from inside.

Even at a child's party, there will be lots of dancing. Usually, the entertainment will encourage kids to get up and dance, and parents will often dance too. That's one thing I do love about Peru, music and dancing is so entwined in everything they do. Birthday parties for the kids are a lot of work - but they're a lot of fun too. It was an especially great way to get to know the parents of Franco's friends when he started at a new school last year. All the same - I'm happy David is content with pizza and a movie for his birthday.
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