Friday, 7 October 2011

Birthday party

Another huge milestone reached, celebrated and survived last week: DD1's long-awaited seventh birthday. For me the very fact that my daughter was turning seven was already a meaningful and emotionally-charged event. As for the birthday girl herself, she had been counting down the days quite literally for over a month and was getting more and more excited at the prospect of inviting her friends to her very own birthday party this year, planned for the Sunday afternoon following her actual birthday itself...
I may or may not have mentioned that children's birthday parties here in Chile have little in common with those I recall from my own childhood. It might just be a sign of the times though culturally I am sure that even thirty-odd years ago Chilean children did not indulge in some of the traditional delights we enjoyed such as the birthday tea and party games. Most of the children's parties we have attended here in Santiago have been held either in a special themed party venue such as Chuck E Cheese or Let's Fun (sic), in which case the children have been busily and noisily engrossed in slot machines and similar, or else in upmarket country clubs, often belonging to the military and set in luxuriantly verdant surroundings towards the outskirts of the city, in which the families concerned have provided drinks and snacks and usually a bouncy castle, though sometimes one or more entertainers are also involved in keeping the little guests amused. In all cases so far the food and drink on offer would certainly raise more than an eyebrow in more health-conscious environments as fizzy drinks, sugar-laden juices, sweets by the barrel-load and alarmingly brightly-coloured crisps and processed snacks are the standard fare, with sometimes a hamburger, hot-dog or slice of pizza thrown in.
Much to my relief DD1 didn't want her party to be of the same mould and was quite happy to innovate amongst her Chilean classmates. Thus we held the party at home but downstairs in the "Sala de los eventos" and outside in the communal garden complete with the godsend of a playground. We even managed to have a few party games such as Musical Chairs and Pass the Parcel (accompanied by a live accordion) although these required considerable and lengthy explanations beforehand in my still far-from-perfect Spanish. Still they kept the little people busy while the music was much appreciated by all age groups. Alongside the biscuits, fairy cakes, mini-sandwiches and cheese stars the table was also laid with carrot sticks, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. And of course cocktail sausages on sticks, which went like hot cakes... The children tucked in and enjoyed it, finishing every last carrot stick. Not the cucumbers though... only the British contingent went for them.
And last but not least we adopted a Chilean custom which I have since discovered is popular in many parts of Central and South America but had never seen in Europe: that of the "piƱata". A large and attractively-painted box or container is filled full of sweets (no avoiding them here) and small toys, hoist into the air usually by the obliging father, while at the same time a lever releases all of its contents which spill onto the ground. Eager children, each armed with a recipient, then scrabble around on the lawn in search of bounty, picking up every last lollipop, chocolate coin or whatever it may be... DD1 certainly enjoyed her afternoon of glory, as did we with increasing relief as the party mood and spumante took hold.
Lessons I have learnt: all children enjoy a good party, regardless of cultural expectation. Remember to take the jellies out of the fridge. And Chileans don't go in for RSVPs...

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