The College of Saint Rose and UDELAS in Panama

A partnership about education, culture and the exchange of ideas

Fiesta Time in Panama

-Christina Zontini

Throughout the world, celebrations are held to recognize different events and treasure important and special moments. Every culture has different ways of celebrating and remembering these events. Although there are many different celebrations throughout the year in Panama, I want to focus on the ones that I experienced while I was here.

The first celebration, that I was a part of, was a birthday party for one of the girls in my class. I have experienced many birthday parties throughout my school years, but never a birthday celebration like this. The teacher and the students were preparing for it for days. Obviously the student, Mariana, was extremely excited. I had talked to her about the upcoming party and what to expect. She would not tell me much because she wanted it to be a surprise. The only thing she did tell me was that there would be enough food for everyone. After hearing that I was pretty excited myself!

The day before the party she handed out invitations to her birthday party, which was going to be held in the class during the school day. I thought it was interesting that she would hand out invitations when it was going to be for a party in class. Well the invitations were all personally addressed, and I even received one. The excitement was building for everyone, not just her!

The day of her party she was like a jumping bean all day. Who wouldn’t be? She was so excited for her mom to show up. I was distracted myself. At 10:00 am, her mother, brother, and cousin showed up at the classroom. None of them could even open the door because they each had about three to four boxes of food. I was so surprised and excited. The class moved their seats into a circle and the party began.

I watched Mariana’s mother scrabble around to get everything ready. She had two huge serving trays: one she filled with all different types of candies and cookies and the other was filled with chips and dip. This was just the first part. Mariana’s cousin and brother walked around to each student continuously handing out food. I noticed there was some food that was traditional for Panama, for example empanadas and some of the cookies. I also noticed that even here cheez doodles are a huge hit.

After about twenty minutes of passing out chips, candy, and other food, Mariana’s mother handed out a juice box to every student….and then came the hot dogs. These hot dogs were not just normal hot dogs. They we covered in condiments and topped with crushed potato chips. If this is not every kids dream, I don’t know what is. The students were done with these hot dogs in less than a minute. The mother filled up the trays again and passed them around another couple of times. I was scared to see what these students were going to be like after eating all this sugar. I also thought it was interesting that allergies where not even asked about. In the United States, the first thing that is said is that there should be no peanuts because of all the allergies. That was not the case here!

The food was put on pause, while everyone presented Mariana with her gifts. It was so cute. I had never seen a school party where the other students bring in gifts for the birthday girl. Even the teacher had a gift for her to open. All the students sat around in the circle as she opened each gift. They all would chant, “¡Abrelo!” (Open it!) for every gift.

After opening all her gifts, the cake and soda was brought out. They set up the cake in the middle of the room. Eleven candles were put in the cake for each year. The class sang first in English and then in Spanish to her. The teacher made her wait while she made her wish. She made her wish and blew out the candles. I kept thinking to myself, ‘This has been such an extravagant in-school birthday party.’

The rest of the day was free for the students to play games or eat more of the food. After the party was over, I sat down with Mariana’s mother to talk to her about the party. She told me that this was traditional for in-school celebrations. She explained to me that if anyone is going to celebrate, it needs to be big. The mother explained that after school they were hosting her other birthday party at the mall for her friends. At yet, another party was still in order for the family. I think it is so great that they treasure these events and make the so special.

I was shocked at this in-school celebration. Although there were similarities to birthday parties in the United States, I had never seen such an extravagant in-school party. Mariana loved her party and was so excited for her other party after school. I was so glad I could experience this with her because it made me think about what we celebrate in the United States. I kept thinking about what her mother said and it made realize that each day we should celebrate: CELEBRATE BIG!

The second celebration that I got to experience was El Día de la Etnia Negra. This translates to being a day to celebrate black pride in Panama. All the schools in Panama celebrate this day with decorations and parties. I was able to experience the preparation for the celebration in my elementary class and the actual celebration at the University. El Día de la Etnia Negra is held every May 30th. The students learn about the different providences in Panama. Each providence has its own type of dress and food. Similar to the United States, each providence is known for something different.

At Dr. Belisario Porras, my elementary school, the students made and decorated headdresses traditional to black ethnic groups. The school threw a huge celebration with traditional foods so that the students can try them. The students made bulletin boards and decorated the school for this event. I think it is great that the students really get to experience the other cultures that surround them.

At UDELAS, the university, they had a celebration as well for el Dia de la Etnia Negra. The college students each got into different groups to represent the different providences in Panama. They dressed in traditional clothing for that providence as well as providing background information and traditional food. There were about seven different tables with all different types of food and some with music.

I learned so much about the different traditions that each providence holds. It is so great to see these students embrace their culture and put on such a wonderful celebration to help others learn and remember. It truly made me realize how much I appreciate my culture and how I loved learning about the others that surround me.

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1 Comment»

  Anita wrote @

Wow!! Pnamanians really know how to celebrate their birthdays. Here they just make some cupcakes and sing Happy birthday. lol lol Glad you all had loads of fund celebrating.


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