I’ve been thinking a lot recently about birthday parties, more specifically, throwing A Mexican Birthday Party! Stands to reason that if we live here we’ll be expected to throw parties for our kids. We’ll also, I assume, be attending a bunch given that we have two small and friendly children.
We have been to a few parties here now and we’ve just been invited to another one that our five year old doesn’t feel he is ready to attend. It is the party of a kid in his year and will be at the ice skating rink. I know, from speaking to other parents, that the party is likely to be incredibly hectic and loud…and then there will be the ice skating lesson, all in Spanish. He has said he can’t do a party in Spanish and the skating lesson all at the same time. I get that that’s a lot for a little kid, who has just arrived in a new school in a language he only sort of understands so we’re not going. It’s a shame as I’d love for him to start making friends and this is one way to do that but we have to respect his wishes on this. Anyway, can you imagine taking an unwilling five year old to a party? The strops that would ensue…I can’t even think about it!
Anyway, this got me thinking about the differences between birthdays at home, in the UK, and birthdays here in Mexico.
So What Happens At A Mexican Birthday Party?
Well, cake, obviously. These seem to be made at a professional bakery rather than by the parents, although I’m sure there are exceptions to this.
Piñata – can’t have a party in Mexico without a piñata, right?
Sweets – because they’re everywhere, all the time
Entertainment – just like home, some people get an entertainer or pay a fortune for a theme party at the trampoline park or ice skating ring and some don’t.
So anyway, I wrote the following in The Huffington Post. I thought I’d share it here now as we prepare to re-enter birthday season.
How To Fail At Throwing A Mexican Birthday Party
Our small girl turned three this weekend. I was very aware that while her older brother has had birthday parties since his second birthday, she did not get one last year and it was looking unlikely that she’d get one in Mexico this year. Then we discovered that the kids’ school allows short birthday parties in school hours. Perfect! We could totally nail this, right? How hard can it be to throw a party for thirty kids in a foreign language and a totally different culture? Hmmm.
I sent husband into school to ask if we could throw a party for the small one. All positive. He came back with a yes and a reminder that Mexican parties need sweets. This was emphasised with a slapping of hands, lest he forget and accidentally take carrots and cucumbers instead I guess. Clearly, our previous conversations with school about the amount of sweets and juice they give our kids hadn’t gone unnoticed and they totally believe us to be European health nuts (which we aren’t, we just like there to be a sensible level of sugar in our kids’ diet). And it may possibly be true that we did once do a birthday party, for three year olds that had cucumber, carrots and hummus as the snacks but I’m pretty sure that’s normal. We loosened up a bit for the fourth birthday party and I melted chocolate on to bread sticks, and let the kids have hula hoops. I’m not totally insane!
Over the last few weeks we figured out how we would play this. We needed a game or two. Pass the Parcel? No, too time consuming, especially if the kids hadn’t played before and weren’t sure why they were unwrapping and handing on. It’s hard enough with a roomful of English kids who do know the rules. Musical bumps? Fine, but so often ends in tears so we thought not. In the end we plumped for ‘pin the tail on Peppa Pig‘. We bought three large Peppa pictures and some pink ribbon, which we promptly lost. I bought more ribbon and husband spent a decent amount of time cutting, sticking double sided tape to it and then trimming (because he’s a perfectionist). Only, he didn’t check if it was easy to get 30 pieces of double sided tape unstuck quickly when 30 small kids are making a lot of noise and running around. Here’s a tip: it’s not. So I quickly had to shove masking tape on every piece while everyone stared at me.
We had three groups going and one prize for the winner of each group. We’d made blindfolds (see how much work we put in to this party?) but I suspect they weren’t perfect: our son, who went first in his group, stuck the his tail exactly in the right spot. I’m pretty certain he cheated. He does love to cheat if he can. No idea where he gets that from (ahem). His best friend also won in his group. Damn it. So here comes our first fail at Mexican parties: we gave prizes to the three winners. The kids had no clue why some of them were getting a present and the rest not. Apparently in Mexico, at parties kids just get a ‘well done’ and a pat on the head or shoulder. Well done Mexico for being less consumerist at parties than us. I can’t imagine party games not having actual prizes, even if only a sticker, and kids being ok with it. Last year, in the UK, I opted not to do party bags at the end of the party as everyone had a nice lunch box and had done a treasure hunt with actual bounty. Even that surprised some kids.
So, while the two winners who weren’t our cheating rat of a son (I have no proof, just a suspicion and a very innocent face on said rat-boy) got all confused about why they were getting presents we ushered everyone in to blow out candles, sing and for the kids to give our small girl her presents. Wow. She handled herself well. I remember running and hiding in the loo rather than face the singing friends. She stood on a chair and grinned. After the singing she turned and gave me a massive hug. I was so proud of her.
And then the headteacher turned and asked me what we’d brought for lunch and all my joy dissipated. Husband had not mentioned anything about providing lunch for the kids. He is pretty sure that he wasn’t told anything except cake and sweets. It does seem odd given that we pay for school lunches but I probably believe headteacher over absent minded husband if I’m honest. His memory isn’t always the best and remembering stuff that was said to you with a zillion kids around, in a foreign language isn’t that easy.
So that was fun. We apologised and explained. I offered to pay for something but it was decided they’d find juice from their stockroom and the kids could just eat cake for lunch. Hah! Lucky teachers: thirty kids high on sugar with nothing decent in their stomachs. The staff were very nice and understanding, saying they realised it was our first Mexican party and laughing that we’d know next time. Damn right, next time I will go in with a pen and paper and write down exactly what’s expected of us.
So then they asked if we were taking our kids home early with us. We looked horrified and reminded them we were paying them to look after them. And then small one cried that she wanted to come home (ah ha, so you do understand Spanish you little beast!) so we took them with us, leaving a mountain of the detestable party bags rammed full of sweets.
Throwing A Mexican Birthday Party: Lessons learned:
1.Don’t rely on absent-minded husband to get all details
2.Mexican kids don’t expect prizes for winning party games
3.School parties expect lunch and drinks to be provided, not just cake and sweets
4.Paper napkins aren’t good enough for cake eating. Kids need proper plates and forks (Mexican cakes are more moist than UK cakes, we didn’t know that)
5.Must finish party with lots and lots of sweets
So, if you, like us, find yourselves needing to throw a school birthday party in Mexico, do remember to check exactly what’s expected of you. Or, conversely, if you have silly English parents asking to throw a party in your Mexican school, please, please make sure they understand what you expect of them!