I spent each of my last four birthdays somewhere different around the world. I celebrated my 19th birthday in Spain, my 20th in Costa Rica, and my two most recent birthdays in Mexico. I’m close to my family and friends back home in Nevada, so it always makes me feel a little empty to be away from loved ones on my birthday.
On the other hand, the coolest part of having my birthday abroad is experiencing how different cultures celebrate the day. Last year, my friend Shaila hosted my birthday outside her home in Querétaro, Mexico. The neighborhood kids were riding their bikes and playing on the street nearby. Being kids, they couldn’t resist poking their noses into the party.
Now, before my birthday party, I never had a proper piñata experience. I did not understand Shaila’s gleeful insistence that we MUST have a piñata at my party.
As Shaila and I wandered the local marketplace searching for “the perfect piñata”, I felt bewildered by all the options to choose from. Sure, in the USA, I’d broken piñatas at parties as a kid. It was just a game…Right?
In Mexico, piñatas are NOT a game.
To set the scene: The neighborhood kids were between the ages of 3 to 12 years old. They hopped around on their toys and chatted with us in their little voices. All was calm until… don don don…piñata time. Although I tend to be outgoing, I felt shy about hitting a piñata. It seemed like more of a kids’ activity to me. So I let the neighborhood kids at it.
We blindfolded the first kid with a bandanna and spun him around in circles until even I was dizzy. He stepped up and summoned all his force to whack the piñata. Each time he went to strike it, Shaila’s husband maneuvered the piñata up and down, juuuust out of reach. We all sung a traditional piñata song in Spanish as he batted away. One by one, each kid swung at the piñata.
My theory is that the neighborhood moms were crouching in the shadows, eagerly awaiting the start of the piñata song. First, I only noticed one mom watching from the sidelines. Harmless, right? Then, out of nowhere popped another mom, and another. Slowly, the moms surrounded the piñata area. Tensions rose as the piñata got closer and closer to breaking.
Finally, after all the kids had a turn at battering the piñata, it broke….
Candy spilled out of the piñata, ricocheted around and scattered everywhere. Before my eyes, the moms transformed from sweet-faced ladies to another species entirely.
And chaos reigned!
Moms. Moms everywhere in a candy-collecting frenzy. They whipped out their trusty bags and scooped handfuls of candy into them. They shoved the weak out of the way. Even the kids could not enter the candy area without fear for their lives. Never have I seen anything more cutthroat.
Later, I laughed with my friend Arturo as he explained the phenomenon. It is an unspoken tradition in Mexico for each mom to compete for the most piñata candy for her child. A local joke says that a boy will be skinny if his mom doesn’t love him. A central part of the culture there is for women to show their affection for others through food.
So, friends, the moral of the story is when you have a birthday in Mexico, don’t be the agua fiesta (party pooper). You better have a piñata. But when it breaks, beware- the moms mean business!
Also, if the neighborhood kids offer you a “birthday pepper” and say “it’s not that spicy”, definitely believe them.
No matter where we’re from, we can all identify with birthday traditions. I want to hear from you. Yes, you! Share your birthday story by leaving a reply below.
Until next time- Saludos!