By Rachel Gallucci
In the States, turning eight years old many come with eight soft punches, or eight tugs to the ear. In Potrero, it comes with a bombardment of water balloons and eggs.
This past Wednesday was the birthday of Nayelli, the daughter in my homestay family, who turned eight years old. Excited about the opportunity to experience a new facet of Tico culture, I tried to learn a little bit more about the traditions that surround birthdays in Costa Rica.
For one thing, birthdays here are a much bigger deal than they are in the States. The town is so small that people seem to be capable of keeping a mental birthday calendar that tracks every resident’s cumpleaños. Many a dinner conversation revolve around a listing of the upcoming birthdays, complete with names, ages, and frequently time of birth and day of the week as well.
Some of the birthday preparations here are quite the same as they are in the States–I woke up early to find Abuela Isabel cleaning and distributing candy into goodie bags, and later came home to find a group of women in the kitchen, preparing a huge sum of food for all the guests (though instead of making pasta salad or hamburgers they were cooking a huge vat of rice and chicken). The party food also consisted of ice cream in tiny plastic cups with tiny spoons and a big pink cake (Barbie-themed). I chatted with Nayelli the night before about some of her favorite games to play at birthday parties:
Ponerle la Cola al Burro (Pin the Tail on the Donkey)
Las Sillas Musicales (Musical Chairs)
Teléfono Chocho (Whisper Down the Lane)
Pato Pato Ganso (Duck Duck Goose)
Simón Dice (Simon Says)
Las Escondidas (Hide and Seek)
Zapatito Conchinito (A variation on Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, in which the kids put their feet in a circle and whoever’s foot remains last wins)
El Puente Flojo (Kids stand on one foot and whoever falls first into the “river” below loses)
Though a lot of these games are similar to kids games in the States, there is one game I have yet to figure out. Halfway through the party I went out to sit with the kids for a while, to see some of the games that Nayelli and I had talked about, and was greeted by about twenty kids who started laughing at me, clapping their hands, and chanting my name. One niño yelled “Rachel es la presidenta!”–Rachel is the president–and when I asked what that meant or what I was supposed to do, they said “Nada!” So I sat there for a while being clapped at until they moved on to someone else. I’m really not sure if this is actually a game I just don’t understand or if it was simply a way for them to entertain themselves.
The most interesting tradition that I came across was the pelting of the birthday girl with raw eggs and, as if eggs themselves weren’t messy enough, water balloons as well. This seems to be something that is looked forward to, which I guess just goes to show that life down here in Potrero really is carefree!