Most Western countries would believe Latin America in general to be a place of constant fiestas and regular siestas, powerful sunshine, deep passion and affection, dancing in the streets, and soap-opera-like drama. How do birthday parties and the Day of Love celebrations look like in Peru?
The dancing in the streets is often a myth, just like the siestas. And when it comes to Peru in particular, the soap-opera-like drama, quarrels and infidelities, commonly seen in Europe as almost a standard, are taboo here – which of course does not mean that they do not happen, but they are not talked about in public and it is actually common to be fired from work for infidelity!
Yet, no fiesta can take place without loud music and it is normal to go clubbing and hear music blaring from various clubs and restaurants that is meant to attract but gives absolutely no chance to having a conversation.
The New Year celebrations just like those of Christmas are celebrated until late morning (of the 25th of December and the 1st of January) and are filled with hugs and drinks and music.
Peruvians love birthday parties (as well as baby showers). They either take place at home or – if the family that can afford it – at a rented venue (an event place). People pay for a thematic decoration arranged by a specliazed company which are nothing cheap. Neither is the catering, which is either served in a form of a buffet or distributed during the event , especially as dozens of people are usually invited (resembling thus a smaller wedding). Sometimes, there might be a dress code or dressing up requeired.
The celebration in someone’s house will probably include a barbeque (parilla) and if the house does not have a terrace or a safe street in the front (houses here don’t usually have a garden), it will take place in the living room. There are plastic chairs arranged in a big oval/square, along the walls, with an empty space in the middle – for the dancing. There are thus no tables (except for a main one where all the food and drinks are located) and you are suppossed to somehow guard your glass and plate (possibly on the floor).
The party never actually begins at the official hour given on the invitation, but about two or three hours later. The dancing begins even later, when everybody has had enough to drink and eat. Till that moment, people usually talk. If they want to eat something, they need to go to the kitchen or the buffet, then come back to the chair – that is unless food´s distributed at certain intervals in which case you simply have to wait for those moments.
Be it a celebration in a house or in a rented venue, you might expect the culturally typical drinking beer from one glass. This habit has only changed due to the covid pandemic, but you still find house-held birthday parties where this is happening. You are expected to drink from the same glass with several other people who are sharing. Just like in some countries of South-East Asia, somehow this represents a hint of a friendship offered and shared.
Speaking of beer: it is absolutely normal to come to a dance club and see people bringing in crates of beer they bought in a supermarket which they place into the middle of the dance floor! They are standing around, drinking, sometimes dancing a little, and trying to chat but it is impossible to beat the loud music even when shouting.
By the way, if you go to eat out on your birthday, you might be given a complimentary drink or another surprise by the restaurant. My yogini friends surprised me for my recent birthday. We met for brunch and they had a gift, the ballons and the flowers ready for me as well as the birthday cake which the staff brought in towards the end of our visit and everyone sang Happy birthday for me while I blew out the candle. When we went out to dine in the night with my husband, the Sushi Top restaurant gave me a complimentary strawberry mojito and a 20% discount card with best wishes and the signatures of all the staff.
Childrens´ Birthday Parties
Even the kids´ parties begin about two hours later than the announced time of the beginning. Usually a clown is invited to guide through the party, leading the participants through games and dances and music fun. There is no alcohol served so the fathers usually do not bother to arrive, it is just the mums bringing the kids invited. However, in some regions, e.g. in the jungle, there is beer available and the fathers (thus) do turn up.
La hora loca, the crazy hour, is the gran final of such parties. It is a thematic hour-long celebration with professional dancers and/or animators. Whistles, balloons and headbands are distributed, confettis sprinkle all around, everyone dances and sings. This exuberant merriment is followed by the lighting and blowing out of the candle on the birthday cake and everyone sings Happy birthday in Spanish and usually also in English.
If the crowds shouts out “mordida” the child has to bite the cake and sometimes the parents push his/her face down the cake as a form of a joke. The bitten birthday cake is not cut and given out. The family has another cake sliced and prepared in boxes which are given out to all the visitors together with some more candies when they are leaving.
The end of the party is marked by smashing the piñata. The kids (and sometimes even their mums) fight for the sweets or toys that fall out after the breaking and there are some who gain many and others who gain nothing. Children with sharp elbows very often win, and the less aggressive ones do not like smashing the piñata at all.
You can watch a video from a kid´s birthday party in the North of Peru, Motupe.
Just like birthdays, baby showers are a huge thing here.
The party is held by the parents expecting a baby, just some weeks before the date of birth. Friends and relatives are invited and bring gifts for the yet unborn child.
The party usually takes place in someone´s house and includes a centrally located decoration which reveals the baby´s name(s) and sex. They usually start around 6 pm, but most people arrive typically two hours later when all the fun begins with music and animators. Sometimes, there is karaoke involved, always, there are games, snacks (most commonly sweet, including a cake) and drinks – also alcoholic. The party lasts until late at night so if you come around with a baby, the baby ends up sleeping in its pram or else you take the baby home to sleep.
All the guests receive a little gift before leaving with the name of the baby written on it.
St Valentine’s – The Day of Love and Friendship
The Day of Love is a huge event in Peru (and other countries of Latin America) as it is also a Day of Friendship. The decoration is based on heart-shaped objects and balloons and fluffy teddy bears. In the streets, people are selling various trifles and flowers so your date can easily buy some for you. Friends give each other cards or little gifts and sweets.
The main plaza as well as restaurants and bars are decorated with heart-shaped objects and the influx of red colour is striking. The town becomes livelier than ever, with music bands performing, the street food stalls multiply enormously and random photographers (often with no education background in photography, but with a reasonably good polaroid cameras around their neck) will be trying to offer you a photograph for a sol or two with some Valentino background decoration. The town hall offers weddings for free on this special day and people make good use of that.
Food at Fiestas
An important part of every celebration anywhere in the world is obviously food. The Peruvians are truly proud of their food. When they ask you if you like their country and you say yes, they immediately react by saying that it is prothanks to the food.
However, vegans and vegetarians might find eating out (in common restaurants) quite hard here. Many of the dishes are meat-based, most soups too. BBQ’s, parillas, know nothing of grilled veggies, potatoes or cheese. You will be lucky if you get grilled fish – as usually fish is fried, like most foodstuffs here, including the typical chicharrón (fried seafood).
A salad here means lots of fresh onions with coriander or – if you are lucky – several shreds of lettuce, two slices of tomato, and if you have really good karma, then maybe a slice of avocado. If your smile equals to that of Julia Roberts, you might get vinegar. Forget about olive or sesame oil or grinded pepper…
If you like veggies, you will probably end up getting most of your lunches and dinners in the Chinese Chifa bistros or in the nikkei restaurants which offer a variety of Japanese and Peruvian food fusion.
A Peruvian delicatesy is fried or baked guinea pig, lizards and all kinds of guts, intestines and tongues. Soups here are also meat-based, often eaten with pasta. Potatoes and other veggies are melted in broths thus making the texture different from the European broths in which the clean transparency of the fluid is the most important sing of high-quality.
Peruvians love desserts and enjoy them often after lunch as well as after dinner.
At Peruvian parties you usually find tamales (starchy dough cooked inside a corn husk or banana leaf), anticuchos (barbecued meat on a stick, typically made of beef heart), empanadas (stuffed with beef, olives and eggs), tequeños (fried cheese sticks served with guacamole) as well as ceviche (raw fish and/or seafood), papa/palta rellena (stuffed potato – with mince meat, stuffed avocado – with chicken) and causa rellena (a level of smashed potatoes with a level of guacamole and tuna or chicken). Among favourite party drinks there is beer and chilcano (pisco with juice).