Sunday, March 11, 2007

The kids are alright

A child's birthday party in Costa Rica, like many other aspects of life in this small country, has some basic components that everyone seems to follow. I thought I'd list them for you, in case you are planning on either throwing a party or attending one, so that you may be properly schooled on the subject:

1. Everyone is invited. This means not only the child's friends, but also all of his relatives, parents' friends, classmates (all of them, not just a select few), and friends of friends are generally welcome to come.

2. Everyone brings a gift. That goes without saying, I suppose. Don't come empty-handed.

3. Everyone goes home with a gift bag. These are requisite "thank-you"s to all children in attendance. And they're fun to put together. For our son's last birthday (2 years old), the gift bags we gave out contained mini coloring books, boxes of crayons, packages of either cheese crackers or peanut butter crackers, and packs of dried fruit. The ones we received yesterday contained plastic toys, candy, and bamboo whistles. Son has also received mini soccer balls, small toys, coloring books, etc. You are not likely to get a thank-you note (or even a phone call or e-mail, unless the party is thrown by Gringos) for the gift you bring to the child having a birthday, so I guess this is the Costa Rican version of said thank-you note. On the other hand, though, that lets you off the hook of having to write a thank-you note to all of those relatives, parents of child's classmates, etc.

4. Every child's party has a piñata. Since most kids have been practicing breaking the piñata since they were a few months old, the older kids are quite good at knocking the thing to shreads. Usually the small ones go first, then the older kids. The birthday child always gets to go first. Kids are not usually given a blindfold and turned in circles, unless they are quite a bit older. An adult holds the piñata's rope and swings the piñata out of the way, getting increasingly difficult proportional to the age of the child. Filling the piñata is fun, and can be a challenge in itself, especially if you want to avoid the candy as much as possible. Last year, I managed to find lots of sugar free candy, small plastic animals, packages of raisins and dried fruit, other little toys that wouldn't fall apart during the first use, and animal crackers. They seemed to be a hit, surprisingly! Most parties we have attended, however, have had the sugary-filled piñatas. We, therefore, try to keep son off to the side, and he hasn't learned the "grab everything in sight" trick yet, so he just takes a few things he wants and that's that. Whatever we have left over usually goes in the trash can a few days later (if esposo and I don't eat it first!), after son has forgotten about it. A side note on piñata etiquette: Many adults act like greedy pigs, grabbing more than the kids do and stuffing it into the kids' bags, leaving some children with not much at all. I find this practice highly annoying. Please, for all that is good, show some restraint. Don't be that parent. It's no wonder (and really I am talking about Costa Rican kids here, Gringo kids/parents do not usually act so greedy) the older children are so grabby; they get it from their parents! Sheesh...

5. Besides the cake, childrens' parties usually include copious amounts of foodstuffs: cold salads, appetizers, side dishes, entrees -- it's a veritable buffet! Even at a non-vegetarian party, I found PLENTY of vegan things to eat and was stuffed by the end of the day. Don't be cheap -- the spread is more for the adults than the kids and people will remember it!

6. There is usually an activity of some sort. Though I can't stomach clowns myself, every party we've been to for a Costa Rican child has had a freakin' clown. If you don't want to go the clown route, you could opt for swimming, some other type of entertainment, having the kids all make a craft, face painting, etc. We've been to several parties at Gymbo Fiestas, which is great fun for all the kids (though they're not cheap and the snacks are crap, so you really have to bring your own unless you don't mind potato chips and soft drinks for the preschool set). You can rent a bouncy house, you could hire a magician -- a recent party for an older girl (that we didn't attend but our friend told us about) took them all to a ceramics studio where they used leftover tiles to make coasters, mirrors and picture frames. Nice idea! Having a wading pool for little kids is a good idea. If the child's birthday is in July, you should probably start thinking about the party in January. The planned activity is crucial to the whole thing going off without a hitch.

7. Singing "Happy Birthday." At a mostly Costa Ricans party, you will sing in Spanish. At a Gringos-Ticos party, you'll probably sing both in English and Spanish, so brush up on those Spanish lyrics! They're not that difficult. In Costa Rica, they are a little different than in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world:

Cumpleaños feliz,
Te deseamos a ti.
Cumpleaños a [child's name here],
Que los cumpla feliz.

At a Ticos-only party, ya ain't likely to sing in English at all.

8. Costa Rican birthday parties, like most other Costa Rican parties, can last for hours on end. Expect to dedicate half a day, at least, to attending the party. If preparing for one, expect to spend several days in advance. Don't worry too much about arriving late; that's the Costa Rican way. Remember, you're on Tico Time! We get to be late for everything now. It is expected. If the party you are attending "starts" at 1:00, you can get there around 2:00. If you want a party you are throwing to start at 1:00, tell people to get there by noon. Actually, tell the Gringos to get there at 1:00 (unless they've lived here for many years and are on Tico Time!); tell the Costa Ricans to get there at noon.

I hope this helps your Costa Rican birthday experience go much more smoothly! Just remember: If you get really bored, you can always bow out early, using that Costa Rican standby excuse: "I have another appointment/meeting/previous engagement that I have to get to!"

No comments:

Post a Comment