My older son Nico just turned six years old! One of the best things about living in Spain is that I can bake cupcakes for his class without fear of inciting either scorn or controversy. In the United States, a mother who brings birthday cupcakes to school is seen as being an evil contributor to childhood obesity, not to mention an unoriginal person who bakes passé desserts. Here in Barcelona though, frosted cupcakes are still cool and I can bring them to school with my head held high.
At Nico’s school, the tradition is to have mass birthday parties for all the children in a class who celebrate their birthday in a particular season. This makes sense in that nobody gets left out. At the same time, Nico has always made it very clear that he wants to have his own party for his birthday and I can understand that as well.
So last weekend I held a small birthday party in the park for Nico and invited a few local children along with their parents. Everything seemed to go well but I have to admit that as is so often the case for me when interacting with native Spanish/Catalan people, I felt fairly incapable of understanding what was going on in the minds of my guests. Did they think it was weird that I set up the birthday snacks on a park bench or was that a normal thing to do? Were they not eating the cheese muffins that I made because they had just finished lunch (a probable likelihood considering the party was held at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon), or did they think they looked strange and unappetizing? Essentially, I had no idea if they were they thinking “Gee this is fun!” or “Wow, these foreigners sure do throw odd birthday parties...”
How do kids in Barcelona celebrate their birthdays? My experience at attending local birthday parties is not vast, but I have donned a cone-shaped birthday hat or two during my time in Spain. Thus far, I have seen three different varieties of celebration.
1. Mass parties given for more than one child. The last one we went to involved what seemed like hundreds of screaming children and nine birthday cakes, one of which caught on fire right in the middle of the singing. I gave money to someone for a group gift but I have no idea what was bought or when it was received.
2. Parties given at indoor play centers. I am speaking of the kinds of places where you can find giant cages filled with plastic balls. Every surface is usually sticky and large quantities of crunchy puffy snacks are generally served. The advantage of this sort of party is that parents can just sort of sit there and look stunned while the staff takes charge of the children.
3. A private party given at home for an individual child. I’ve only been to one of these and I get the feeling that they are not that common. It was held by 'people of means' in their grand penthouse apartment. Two very good-looking young women (the word 'nubile' would be apt, but since this is a family blog...) were hired as clown-pirates. Children screamed, mothers gossiped and fathers ogled.
The one thing that all three of these parties had in common was utter chaos. This is not to say that the American and British birthday parties I’ve attended haven’t been chaotic as well. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going to happen when you get a bunch of kids together and feed them large quantities of sugar. Still, at the typical American or British birthday party, children are generally herded from one game or activity to another, and at American birthday parties there is generally a set time when all the children gather to watch the birthday boy/girl open their presents. This doesn't seem to be the case at Spanish birthday parties. Yes, presents are given, but they are usually ripped into the moment they’re received and then promptly hurled aside in a frenzy of distraction. As for games and activities, in my experience there have only been the sexy clowns and perhaps the occasional misshapen piñata.
I suppose that in the end, what really matters is that the kids have fun and I can definitely say that at each of the birthday parties I’ve attended here in Barcelona, they really did. What has your experience with children’s birthday parties in Barcelona been like? Did you find them to be different than what you see in your home country and if so, in what ways? How have you celebrated your children’s birthdays?