A child's birthday anywhere in the world is a cause for celebration. Yet in Mexico, children's birthdays take on a life of their own with elaborate parties lasting for hours, if not the entire day. The Spanish words, "feliz cumpleaños" are often shortened to "happy birthday," in English. Yet in Spanish, they have a deeper value, meaning "happy completed years." Mexican families maintain several traditions that make birthday celebrations there special.
The piñata is a container usually made of papier-mâché or pottery that is colorfully decorated and filled with candy. It is hung from a tree branch, rafter or other high object. The birthday boy or girl is blind-folded, given a stick or bat, spun around several times and then allowed to try to break open the piñata. Eagerly adopted by U.S. families as part of stateside birthday celebrations, the piñata and its contents didn't originate in Mexico. According to Mexconnect, European explorer Marco Polo discovered the piñata during his travels to China, where seeds for spring planting spilled out during New Year's celebrations. Polo brought it back to Europe, it then became popular in Spain and its celebratory tradition accompanied explorers and the Catholic priests to the New World. Mexican culture features piñatas at a variety of celebrations, including birthday parties, where it is considered a major social faux paus if a piñata isn't hanging from a tree branch for blind-folded kids to whack with a stick or bat.
No Mexican birthday party -- especially one for children -- is complete without plenty of enthusiastic singing. As children hit the piñata, the gathered crowd sings or chants the piñata song or as it is known in Spanish, "Dale, Dale." Its words encourage the hitter to make the most of their turn because after three strikes without a broken pinata, they must pass to the next person, according to lyrics posted at Home Sweet Mexico. Las Mañanitas is sung as the birthday cake is presented. Its words give homage to the morning arrival of the celebrant's saint day, which is another term used in Mexico to celebrate birthdays.
Face In The Cake
The singing of Las Mañanitas is the precursor to the messy part of a child's birthday celebration. As the song is completed and any candles on it are blown out, those gathered begin repeatedly chanting the Spanish word, "mordida." It means to take a bite, which is what the birthday boy or girl attempts to do with their hands behind their back and without the aid of cutlery. Inevitably, someone behind them gently pushes their face into the cake.
These hollowed-out eggs that are filled with confetti and colorfully decorated are standard fare at any Mexican celebration, birthday parties included, according to Splangish Baby. The trick is to covertly crush the egg over the birthday boy or girl's head releasing confetti and tiny pieces of eggshell into their hair. It is considered good luck to have a cascarones broken over one's head. Creating cascarones is a time-consuming labor of love as party-goers use them up quickly.
The 15th birthday of a Mexican girl is a time of immense celebration. It is called the quinceañera. For girls of the Catholic faith -- the dominant religion in Mexico -- turning 15 years of age involves a religious ceremony followed by an enormous party aimed at recognizing the girl is on her way to womanhood. The quinceañera is a cross between a sweet 16 birthday and a debutante ball, often featuring fancy dresses, a large buffet and a band. Traditionally, this celebration was reserved for girls, but more families are holding similar celebrations -- minus the dresses -- for their boys turning age 15.