Monday, January 21, 2013
Hay Que Festejar
Me and Elizabeth are about to walk out the door to go to a birthday party for Argelia, one of her "amigos" at school. We had no idea what we were in for.
Argelia has just reached the age of three, which turns out to be a very important passage here in Mexico.
I was grateful we had a nice present and wrapped it prettily, because this wasn't just another cake-and-candles affair. There were at least 300 family and friends there, about evenly divided between kids and adults.
We gathered at the Casa de Arbol, a party place with a covered patio and a playground surrounding a banyan tree with a trunk the size of a large elephant and a canopy that rose fifty feet or more overhead. Halfway up there was a wooden deck with a playhouse, linked by a swaying rope and plank bridge to another playhouse from which little party animals could slide through a plastic tube to the ground.
Not far off was a trampoline enclosed with a net. There was an art table with crayons, play doh and paints for anybody who cared to take a seat. There were adult and kid food lines, seating with tablecloths and napkins, sideboards piled with candy, custard and cakes.
When it was time for the piniata, there were four of them, one after the other, so there were plenty of swings for the whole crowd, and certainly plenty of treats and toys to scoop from the ground.
There was even a face painter to put seahorses, shells and hearts on anybody who could sit still enough for it, which Elizabeth could. A hired photographer documented all.
I commented to somebody standing next to me that it was more like a wedding than a birthday party, mentally calculating that if this was what a birthday calls for around here, we'd have to rethink our family economy.
But Pam told me later she'd heard that the tradition of big third birthday celebrations dates from the 19th Century in Mexico, when three was the age at which a child was deemed to have survived what was then a very high infant mortality rate. Apparently expressing communal joy over anyone younger was thought to be tempting fate.
Mexico's infant mortality rate today is well below the world average, and in any event Argelia herself certainly has little to fear from it. Her parents and grandparents are doctors, and the extended family surrounding her last Saturday looked glossy and prosperous.
Elizabeth bustled from venue to venue for four hours, pausing only to stuff herself with grease and sugar. None of the attractions looked UL approved, so I stayed as close to her as I could while exercising my meager Spanish on anyone who looked polite enough to tolerate it.
When we collapsed exhausted into the car at last, Elizabeth sighed contentedly as she waited for me to unwrap one of her lollipops for the road. "Was that party for me?" she asked.
I just told her I was glad she'd had fun. What hostess wouldn't be thrilled to know she sent her guests home feeling that way?