An Exciting Birthday In Caguas
This evening I was treated to a very special occasion: the birthday party of my friend Jesus, thrown by his family and friends in the town of Caguas, Puerto Rico. Jesus has been a terrific friend to me, and I was deeply honored to take part in his family’s celebration.
Birthdays in Puerto Rico are a big deal, just as in the rest of the world, but I have to say that I have never seen a celebration as spirited and joyful as this one. The mood was warm, comfortable, and playful. Relatives who hadn’t seen each other in a while took great pleasure in catching up. This is a large and very close-knit family, and their respect and admiration for each other is quite evident. Interestingly, every six months the entire extended family packs up and goes on vacation together, which really sounds like fun. No one makes excuses; they all plan for these getaways and everyone attends.
Before things REALLY got swinging a few of the adults enjoyed some friendly dominoes matches. These were fun to watch, and I must admit that there is a combination of luck and strategy which I don’t fully understand yet. I’m learning, though!
The kids really had a great time, too! Their play and games were encouraged by the adults, and their enjoyment of the celebration really added to the festivities. I’m not sure what was at stake in this game of rock, paper, scissors, but I’m sure it was something fun and exciting.
Here is the birthday boy himself, Jesus, with one of his beautiful sisters. I was lucky to get this photo, as things were starting to rev up and the party reached full swing. For this family, it is traditional to have a DJ spinning tropical music such as merengue, salsa, and bachata. Another tradition is for the birthday boy/girl to dance with every member of the other gender, which kept Jesus busy for a large part of the night.
Before taking to the dance floor, Jesus chatted with various friends and family. Here, he’s talking with his brother and that girl from the vegetable market.
Smiles were aplenty, and all generations took the time to share stories and laugh together. I have really got to improve my Spanish as quickly as possible, because I think I missed out on some great stories.
With the salsa blasting from the DJ’s booth, it was time to dance! Jesus opened things up with his sister, and then the ladies flocked to the dance floor.
Here is Jesus with one of his cousins. Interestingly, she works for the US government and will be moving to Washington DC soon. I look forward to welcoming her to MY family in the US when she settles here!
Did I mention that for about three hours Jesus hardly left the dance floor? I don’t know how he kept it up – I was worn out after just 2 or 3 songs. Merengue and salsa are very hard work! And a good workout, too. I need to find a place to dance to latin music somewhere close to my home in Virginia. Talk about fun!
Hmmm… that woman from the Dominican market again! This is my girlfriend Mary having a blast with Jesus dancing merengue. I wish I had some similar photos of myself and Mary – she taught me to dance merengue – but no one wanted to touch my camera. Oh well, I’ll keep trying… both to get a photo of us and also to improve my merengue action. Merengue is pretty easy to learn on a basic level, but there is a world of nuance in the way one moves. Great fun!
I don’t know, I just like this photo. Mary’s face really captures the mood of the birthday party… relaxed, joyful, comfortable and warm.
Another tradition for this family is karaoke. Many of the singers had very beautiful voices and I enjoyed listening to them even though many of the words escaped me. I know they sang a lot of love songs, and the few verses that I could work out (or that others translated for me) were beautifully romantic.
As we got around and socialized we met a few friends of Jesus’ family, including this couple. After a few minutes together, Mary realized that the young woman was related to her. A quick phone call to a grandmother confirmed that they were, in fact, cousins. They had never met or knew of each other before tonight, and we were all amazed. It is truly a small world that we live in.
After three hours of intense dancing and singing, it was time to sing Jesus Happy Birthday. Like every other part of this celebration, the birthday song was sung with a Caribbean flavor – complete with hand clapping and shouts of well-wishes. I truly have no idea where Jesus found the stamina!
After singing to Jesus, we shed our pirate hats and enjoyed cake and ice cream. Baked goods, like cake and pastries, are made with particular care in Latin America. The cake was perfect! I have often grumbled that I have no patience for baking, and after tasting cake like this I stand by my conviction. I could never make anything this light and lovely.
As the night wound down, Jesus took a moment to enjoy some cake. As you can see, the sweat was just pouring off of him, poor guy. Celebrating your birthday in Puerto Rico is hard work!
I would like to thank Jesus and his entire family for their kind hospitality and friendship. I am very pleased to have gotten to know them, and I look forward to strengthening our friendship as we enjoy more time together. Thanks also to the entire family for their enthusiastic willingness to share their family celebration with the outside world through this journal. I am truly very blessed to have friends like these!