Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mexican Birthday Parties and Introverts

As far as I can can tell, a typical Mexican birthday party for children includes 4 standard items:

The Song and Cake for a Triple Birthday
  • The Piñata - most people know how a piñata works.  Piñatas in the shapes of favorite movie/TV characters are popular.
  • The Birthday Song & Candles - "Las Mañanitas" is more elaborate than "Happy Birthday" in both tune and words, with poetic complements like "the day you were born was the same day all flowers were born." Like "Happy Birthday" it is sung with the candles lit on the cake.
  • The Birthday Cake.  After blowing out the candles, the child (or adult) takes a bite of the cake.  Usually someone shoves their face into the cake while they are taking the bite - a stark contrast to the lovely complements of the song. (Contrasts like this are typical of Mexican culture).
  • A bag of Candies for the kids adds to what they already collected in the piñata.

Of course, other games and activities are often added.

Ever since moving to Playa del Carmen the already very festive season from November to February has been made even more festive with many birthday parties (one of which is my own on the same day as my wife's saint day.)  Today I was at one birthday party in which by the time the piñata was broken, the boy who was turning 6 was upset and sitting on his aunts knee, sulking.  I don't know about what.  During the song, he just sat there staring blankly into the candles.  He refused to blow them out, which his 3-year-old sister did for him in the end.  His dad took it upon himself to shove his face into cake.  He never did take a bite, and after his mother wiped the icing off, he went upstairs crying, and the party went on, everyone very happy and festive.

Although the parents told me this boy was just upset because of some meaningless temper tantrum, it made imagine how I would have been as a boy.  I was very introvert, and I hated being the centre of attention during the song and candles.  Getting my face shoved in the cake would have probably been enough to make me go up stairs to sulk alone for the rest of the evening.  For two of the four birthdays I've had in Mexico I did get my face shoved in the cake, but now, as an adult, it's fun for me. (Of course, playing the game of pretending to avoid it is part of the show, and makes it that much more fun for everyone when that unexpected quiet person beside you is the one to give you the shove; last time it was my mother-in-law.)  But as a kid things would have been different.

Even as an introvert adult sometimes Mexico can be overbearing; shortly after getting married, I visited my wife's uncle's home.  All the uncles and aunts wanted to see us dance together, which I'm not good at, and I don't like doing, especially if people are specifically watching me.  The more I protested, the more aunts and uncles joined in the urging.  Finally I gave in.

"You're right.  He really can't dance," said one aunt.
"No, no, definitely not," said another. "When are you going to teach him?"

I sat down, red with embarrassment.  The aunts went back to their conversations, and the uncles went back to offering every type of liquor they had available; "offering" means pouring a glass of liquor and putting in front of you, then asking if you wouldn't prefer to have another in addition (replacement or refusal weren't options.)  No body, except me, seemed to give the bad dance performance any further thought.

Today my parents, who are visiting, saw the preparations for the party across the road and the large number of guests and thought it must be a special age.  As far as I can tell, 6 years isn't one of the special parties. In general, however, I think birthdays here get much more attention.  By our standards, they might be overdone; but by any standards Mexican parties are a lot of fun.

On the whole, I believe being an introvert kid in Mexico would be harder than being an introvert kid in a country like Canada.  I'll be writing more on this in days to come.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I agree with you. I have been in Mexico City for 2 days and I'm already drained by the constant stimulation from the environment and people! I'm recuperating in bed now.