You might know that last year for my 30th birthday, I celebrated 4 times: once with my community class, once with my classes at school, once with my rugby friends, and once with my manfriend & Peace Corps friends. Only one of those was organized by me, and it was a far cry from typical for the coast. I mean, I made people grab their own food for goodness’ sake!
So this year, I decided to throw myself a Colombian-style birthday party…with a twist.
What exactly does a coastal-Colombian-style birthday party consist of? Obviously there are variations on this, but these are what I would consider the key elements:
- A table with a cake on it
- Decorations behind the table
- Photos with attendees standing between the table and the decorations
- A circle of plastic chairs for guests
- Loud music
- Food and drink passed around by the host (sometimes the birthday-haver, other times that person’s mom/aunt/wife)
- The singing of “Cumpleaños feliz” while the birthday-haver stands in front of a cake with a candle that spits fire like a sparkler
And so these are the elements that I carried into my party.
The theme that I decided on for my decor and cake was unicorns & rainbows. Yes, I was celebrating my 31st birthday. But as long as I was in a place where it is acceptable to throw yourself what most people in the United States an over-the-top party, I was going to do it the way I damn well pleased.
One thing I was dying for was a unicorn cake. I had seen this one at a food expo in Barranquilla. There were a few complications, though:
1. I don’t like fondant at all, and I didn’t really want a fondant cake. That literally ruled out every baker/cake decorator in my pueblo.
2. Transporting a cake of this nature from Barranquilla would either be a nightmare or very expensive.
So I ended up going to Price Smart, the Latin American equivalent of Costco, and ordering a big ol’ sheet cake. I chose the design in the book that had a unicorn and a rainbow on it…and on the day I went to pick up my cake, no rainbow. Whatever, it was okay, that cake is so good, tastes like home, etc., so I can get over it.
For the decorations, I made a papier mache cloud (glitter-covered, of course) which my host parents kindly helped me hang (and which is still hanging there). I also made a rainbow with crepe paper hot glued onto plastic tablecloths, which I hung on a string. It was pretty saggy, but whatever. I also made a few big unicorn cutouts with poster board, water colors, glitter, and permanent marker. These are now hanging in the rooms of a few little girls in the neighborhood. Plus, because I’m a bit extra, I put confetti into clear balloons which I hung from the ceiling and covered the table with pretty little white irridescent stars.
Typically the food served at these parties consists of picada – appetizers, such as fried cheese sticks (which I had), chips, and candy – and then either a rice dish or a soup. But I didn’t want to have to cook or ask my host mom to cook, so instead I ordered large quantities of my favorite Colombian food: salchipapas. They’re sort of like nachos, if nachos were made with French fries, sausage, pineapple sauce, and an herby mayo sauce. I also made a couple rainbow-colored delights that I didn’t think any of my friends had ever had: jelly shots and Fruit Loops treats. I took on the responsibility of passing all the food out and boy was I exhausted at the end of the night! I recruited my host sister to help a little bit, but for the most part I was spending my own party plating food, filling cups, refilling cups, passing out jelly shots, etc. I did an okay job as a Colombian host.
I also made everyone wear a sparkly unicorn horn. I myself wore gold, along with my friend Juancho whose birthday is the day before mine, while everyone else got silver. It made me VERY happy to see everyone in their horns, and even more delighted when, at the end of the night, at least five people were still wearing them. Everyone who passed on the street looked at us and laughed and of course I just want to spread silliness.
Even though I was exhausted at the end of the night, I was so happy with the party that I really struggled to fall asleep. But obviously I did because that was over 10 days ago and I am still here alive.