25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Different Birthday Parties
If there is one thing that was very different, completely different, it is the way birthday parties were celebrated back then and today. There is very little resemblance between a child’s birthday party in 1960 and those of today. To you this edition of Twenty Five Years Ago might even seem like a criticism, but those in their fifties know that what I am saying is completely true.
To begin with birthday parties were never celebrated for babies one or two years of age. Some families actually never celebrated birthdays, but some did when the child was perhaps five years old. At this party, other five and six year olds were invited, and only them. There were never uncles and aunts and adult friends at this party, so one never had to make provisions for their enjoyment, only the enjoyment of other kids of that age. When you arrived at this party, mom would leave you at the gate of the house of the party boy or girl. She would leave you there at about four p.m. and promised to come pick you up at six or six thirty. The children would all sit in a circle on wooden chairs or perhaps on make-shift benches which were built with a piece of board or plank over two pieces of rocks or boxes. First someone would pass around offering a piece of light cake or perhaps some creamy biscuits.
After enjoying the cake, the children would be offered a glass of orange or strawberry or grape pop or soft drink. They were all called lemonade even though they were not of lemon flavor. Bradley’s Lemonade and Chavannes Lemonade came in about five flavors. The drink, of course, was served without ice for there was no ice on the island. After that perhaps a game was played and children started running around. If some music was played with a small record player, some children would dance.
Towards the end of the two-hour party, the piñata would be raised and everyone gathered around it volunteering to burst it thinking that whoever burst it would have the best chances of collecting the candies. A canvass was spread on the ground to prevent the candies from becoming covered with sand because most candies came without plastic wrappers. To add fun to the piñata, flour and powder would be added to it and children had a bash breaking it. After that the birthday cake would be lit and the children sang the happy birthday song and it was cut into pieces and shared with all the children. And that was the end of a lovely birthday party.
The birthday boy would then proceed to open his gifts which usually consisted of a pencil, a ballpoint pen, an exercise book, a small box of crayons with six pieces, a toothbrush, or school ruler. Ah yes, a bar of soap was a very popular gift too, which children disliked. They loved the ballpoint pens, or even a pint of lemonade. If your birthday fell around Christmas time you would receive an apple or pear for your gift.
Did you notice one big difference of those parties with today’s fiestas? There was the absence of beer and rum or liquor. Also there was the absence of adults for it was a children’s party and when there were adult parties, there were no children there either. Today if you were to pass by the Lions Den for a children’s party, you will find children running about and around the tables and lots of adults at the tables with beer and rum. Thirty cases of beer at a children’s party, with other mixed drinks, is in my mind really out of place. There are bocas, ceviche, hors d’oeuvres, wines, rum punch, coco loco, cheese dip, and a complete turkey dinner. Some guys boast of spending five and up to ten thousand dollars at a child’s birthday party.
But in my mind the spending of thousands of dollars is not the sad part, if you have the money. The sad part is the consumption and bad example of drinking at a party for children. This is going to hit us hard some day, if it is not already doing so. I wonder if San Pedro is the only community in Belize celebrating children’s parties with rum. I wonder if it is done any other place in the world. Is it legal? Are there benefits? I really miss the celebrations of twenty five years ago where the children had fun, not the adults.