Friday, June 10, 2011

Children´s birthday parties....Spanish style

How do Spanish birthday parties differ from British ones?
The best advice I ever read about children's parties was this: the number of children invited to a party should normally reflect the child´s age. So, for a 5 year old, it is appropriate to limit the number to 5, and 8 year old, 8 etc etc etc. It´s sage, wonderful advice and I would recommend it to any parent. The problem is that it´s a very difficult rule to follow!!
My daughter is quite happy with numbering 5 friends and she would be quite happy to just invite 6 people to her next party. The only problem is that, this year her class mates have been the most sociable bunch in the world, and, therefore, she has been invited to about 20 parties. It seems churlish if not rude to not reciprocate with our own big party with all class mates invited. The venues for these parties have been pretty predictable, there are two popular venues in Alicante for the under 7s. Both are versions of indoor ball parks, with staff in attendance to monitor loud and noisy kids in big rooms with noisy acoustics. The benefits are clear, plenty of running around space, catered, some organised games, a familiar environment (after the first visit, the routine is pretty easy) a dancing adult in a tiger suit, what more could a girl want?
The difference between this sort of party and the ones we are used to holding in the Uk are many. In the Uk, we´d usually have a small party at home, the parents would usually drop the child off at the house and return for them a couple of hours later. There would be party games, balloons, a cake and singing. We would normally open the gifts later, in the peace and calm of home after the party.
In Spain, there´s a big fanfare over the presents, with gathered parents and children excitedly watching the party boy or girl open the gifts (this came as a big surprise to my daughter who comically wiped away every kiss given to her by her friends and opened her presents with excitement but also an air of polite bemusement as if to say: “Why are you all watching me? They´re just presents...)
The volume levels at any party are normally high, but if you´ve ever been to a Spanish party, you will recognise that noise levels seem decibels higher. The Spanish are energetic, enthusiastic, vigorous and loud. Some Spanish people speak very quickly, particularly if they´re telling you a funny story. The parents like to stick around to add all these elements together, throw into that equation a Welsh woman with a limited grasp of Spanish and you have a very interesting party combination! It could be your definition of heaven or hell really!!
My son’s birthday was this week; he was eight, so theoretically 8 friends yes? Well actually no, as with my daughter, this year, our first in Spain, has been a social whirlwind for our son, who was invited to his first party three days into the new school year and has been to too many parties to count since then. He plays after school football on Thursdays and in a sports league on Saturdays. He gets on with the football boys in his class but also likes collecting cards and little toys that boys find so cool, so he has a broad group of friends. He also wanted a football party, so we had to invite at least ten people.
We sat out and wrote the list of friends he would like to go, it numbered 17....most of whom we have met at their own parties or at football. I was about to ask my son to cull a few names when he said: “I’ve invited Charlie because he hasn’t been invited to any other parties this year.”
How could I ask him to cull names after that?
We found and booked a suitable venue (actually my very kind Spanish neighbour did most of the legwork for me), invites were sent. Gifts were purchased and wrapped. I baked the cake and husband decorated it. Party bags were made (with son as helpful assistant) and sweeties wrapped to share with the rest of the class and teachers (another Spanish tradition, to take sweets and cakes to share at school on your birthday.) Balloons were blown up to decorate the house, the venue confirmed and rough numbers given (by this time I had lost track of attendees confirmed or not...)
The day of the party dawned, nice and cool with a minor threat of rain. It did rain a bit but the venue thankfully had a roof. The boys (and two girls) all arrived, with three extra kids in tow (an older brother, a younger brother and a younger sister who all wanted to come to Owain’s party too or could not be left at home...)
Husband was great referee for the hour of football, I tried to play too, it is fun playing football with eight year olds but not when they outplay you so comprehensively that you are mortified by your hopelessness...
My son had a great time, and I think his friends did too. In the chaos of monitoring kids, looking after my daughter (who had become mud splattered and banged her head on a swing within half an hour of arriving), trying to keep track of who wanted hamburgers and who wanted hot dogs, putting presents in a safe place and trying to have a drink, making sure the parents were ok...all my Spanish flew out of my head and I found I could barely make conversation at all....nonetheless, the parents were lovely and sociable and helped with the presents when my son was mobbed by his friends who tried to smother him in parcels...
The cake was a great success, the presents were lovely and thoughtful, the parents were complimentary about how settled my son was at a new school after only a year. The eight year old boys outplayed me at football, called my husband Mr. Green (he is Head of Secondary at their school) and kissed us on both cheeks as they left for home. It was a party that was meant to go from 5.30 to 7.30 (that's what we optimistically said on the invites, liking to stick to British style bedtimes in the Green/ Davies household) Spanish style the other parents started leaving at 8ish and we probably saw out the final guests at 8.30
It was a great party, a noisy, chaotic Spanish party. A tiring, expensive party..It was my son’s eighth birthday, it was a good day.


  1. It's so interesting to hear what happens in other places. We have had the whole class to the house for a disco (bad idea), all the girls in the year (about 50) to the park (better idea, and the best one yet - 8 friends to her 8th birthday! This year we are contemplating the park again for the big crowd and then a few for a slumber party. Somehow, I think I have been tricked into two parties!?
    Thank you SO much for the wonderful response comment that you left on my last post. It made so much sense, and it's something that I have been thinking about a lot. I'm going to print out that poem.

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