Finally! Someone understands my enthusiasm about birthday parties. Or rather, not just someone, but an entire culture. Chileans make an event about just about anything, and birthdays are no exception. While I haven’t been to any adult or teenage birthdays, I’ve been to a least six children’s birthdays in the two and a half months I’ve been here, and they are a huge deal.
Bouncy castles. There’s something about Chicureo and inflatable playgrounds. They’re everywhere. There’s one on the weekends at the club, and there have been one at almost every single kids birthday party so far. (This one is the coolest- a pirate ship!) It’s a no brainer, since the kids love them. To be fair, I live in a very ritzy part of the greater Santiago area, so this kind of activity is generally reserved for the wealthy. I find that to be the same in the United States- middle class families don’t usually rent out a bouncy castle for a 5th birthday party.
A pretty lucrative business in this area is children entertainment, since the upper middle class and wealthy families like to do everything in style, so there are companies that “host” birthday parties. I’m sure there is an equivalent in the U.S., but I haven’t seen them. These entertainment companies set up games for the kids and usually have some kind of performance, like bringing in Spider Man or acting in a play. One party had a magic show, and it was my favorite.
Pinatas are always the grand finale, and the birthday kid gets to break it open and spill candy onto the ground. Even though it’s the last activity, families don’t usually go home until a hour or so afterwards- parties are a minimum of three or four hours. And when I say family, I mean the entire family. Birthday parties in Chile are a family affair- the moms and dads, or at least someone, are expected to stay with the kids and socialize with the other parents, and the children usually bring their siblings.
One thing that’s different than in the U.S. is the presents. The kids do bring presents to the birthday party, but most of them aren’t identified with a “To” and “From” section. It’s just a pile of gifts for the child. Other than a thank you from the hosting parents and birthday kid when the present is dropped off, there is no follow up thank you note or gratitude. At first I thought this was strange, even a bit rude, but I’ve come to decide that I actually like it. Really, the entire point of presents is to bring happiness for another and isn’t about the expected gratitude to stroke the giver’s ego. By just having the same thank you for everyone, it places the emphasis on the receiver, which I think is how it should be.