Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Guatemalan Birthday Party

Bert and I felt very privileged to be invited to our friend Victor's son's birthday party last night. His name is Ederasiel and he turned a whole two years old! :D
You may remember Victor as our tuk-tuk driver (#88) through many adventures, and the friend who took us to Santiago Atitlan for a day where we met Victor's mother and sister. Victor, his wife, and his son live with his wife's parents in Panajachel. We had visited their home when my sisters were here from Canada and met some of his wife's family.
Victor invited us on Thursday night for the party on Friday night. He said to us, "I tell you the party is at 7, but I know the people of Pana are always late so really it is 7:30."

So on Friday, Bert took on the task of finding an appropriate gift and we filled a gift bag with goodies for the birthday boy. We arrived at the house at 7:30 and were grateful that Victor's wife was ushering people in from the alley because we had forgotten which door it was! We weren't the first to arrive but definitely not the last either. Victor greeted us with a huge grin and escorted us to seats near the front. We sat on plastic stools under a lime tree, right near the speakers and the DJ. Yes, DJ!

To make a long story short, it was not really what I expected from a birthday party. It was basically an hour-and-a-half of church -- the family is Evangelical -- then came the more expected birthday stuff -- gift-giving, singing Happy Birthday, then food. I smiled like an idiot the whole time! It was awesome. :D

Not surprisingly, we were the only gringos there. We got some curious stares from the children! Whenever I smiled and waved, they just ducked their heads... or stared harder. Ha!

I took some pictures and video but the place was dimly lit, so they didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. I'm posting them anyway!

This is the entry hall leading from the front door along the side of the house towards the garden on the left.
The house was decorated with an abundance of balloons and streamers. So festive! There were probably 100 plastic stools placed all over the walkway and garden.
I thought it was amusing that this man was reading his Bible at a birthday party.
Little did I know what was to come!
This was the main speaker of the night.
At the front of the long cement entranceway, there was this table pictured above. Behind it was another table with the cake and the immediate family sitting together. The speakers all went up and took the microphone to address the crowd. And I mean, crowd! I think there was at least 50 people there. Most of them were seated along the walkway shown in the first picture.
Singing religious songs.
After a lengthy sermon or prayer or something from the first guy, this lovely woman came up to the table and led us in some songs. Many people had brought guitars and they played them from their seats. A man in front of us had an accordion. Very cool! Almost everyone sang along and knew the words. A few people clapped too, so I joined them!
The accordion player was a great speaker.
After singing, the main guy spoke some more, then a woman came up and spoke for a LONG time, and led us in one song. Then ANOTHER guy went up, who actually was the accordion player, and he spoke for a while. He was actually quite rousing. People enjoyed him.

I couldn't understand what anyone was really saying, other than catching a few words here and there. God is Dios, but they also said Padre with a capital P, meaning Father,and Señor. I recognized alma (soul), hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters), and of course Hallelujah!

At first I tried to follow along, but it got tiresome real quick. The churchy stuff went on for 90 minutes! Wow. Bert had been to an Evangelical church service before, so he was prepared for it, but still had to bail after a bit to go outside and get some air. When he left, more people arrived and he lost his seat. So there I was, the only gringo at a Guatemalan birthday party. I just smiled and tried to look like I was paying attention.

I was actually enjoying more looking around at the people and taking it all in. So different! When the speaker said something especially awesome, people would say "Gracias, Dios" or something. And when he led the prayers, people would mumble their own prayer along with him. A few people cried and many people raised their hands to the sky, or stood up at weird times. Some people buried their faces in their hands. It was... odd. My mother is a Christian and I've been to my share of churches, but this was truly different and fascinating.

During a prayer.
One part of the service was very much like my old church days -- the children! Little kids were gazing around and fidgeting in their seats, babies were crying, and girls were giggling at the back of the room. 

Eder, the birthday boy, threw his pink balloon at the preacher during an especially emotional prayer. My face hurt from smiling so much. :D

The adorable center of attention, Ederasiel.
Another strange thing that happened was a man went around twice with a hat to collect donations. I didn't put anything in, which Victor said was okay because it was for the church. They also did a gift draw, where you bought a ticket and then drew numbers for prizes, with money going to the church.

Finally, after seemingly endless preaching and such, just as my butt was truly getting numb and I was considering having a religious epiphany and standing up to shout "Gracias, Dios!", it was announced that we would sing Happy Birthday. And we did... in English! I participated whole-heartedly, happy to be able to contribute to the joy in the room.
Then the DJ played some weird Spanish happy birthday songs on the speakers while everyone lined up to present their gifts to Eder and his parents. I lined up near the end and wished shy Eder "Feliz cumpleaños". He was more interested in the Avengers gift bag I handed over! But all the gifts went into a separate room. No gifts were opened at the party, at least not while I was there.
Victor didn't stop smiling the whole night, I think! It was so wonderful to see him so happy, and his family too!
I believe that is the mother of Victor's wife, so Eder's grandma. She gave a lovely speech and somewhere in there referenced that she didn't speak English. I need to ask Victor about that!
Victor also gave a speech to thank the guests, and embarrassed me a bit by looking right at me and saying Thank You in English. He was very composed and well-spoken. I smiled wider!  :D
I believe this is Victor's family who came across the lake from Santiago.
After speeches and thank yous and gift-giving, out came the food! Victor had told us they spent all day preparing tamales. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be like mashed potatoes and masa (corn dough) with some chicken and spices on a big green leaf, served with a bun. And everyone also got a sliver of delicious, moist cake. Plus, we got the most amazing hot drink in styrofoam cups. It tasted like apple cider and peaches. Victor said it is called caliente (meaning hot) or ponche (meaning punch). It was delicious!
There were no tables, so I balanced my meal on my knees. The lovely Mayan grandma sitting next to me pulled up an extra stool so we could put our plates and cups on it. Good thing I knew the word for cake -- pastel
It was very quiet while everyone ate.  :D
I am so glad that I went to the party, and felt so privileged to be invited. I don't think I could have smiled more! My cheeks hurt from smiling, and they're hurting now again as I smile to recall such a joyous and loving night. Family is so important to the Guatemalans, and their church is their family too. I hope I can go to Eder's third birthday party next year, and perhaps have enough Spanish to understand the speeches and be able to converse more with the guests. What a great night!

Here is a short video compilation of a few scenes from the party. Enjoy!

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