Piñatas are often associated with Hispanic birthday celebrations. However, some birthday celebrations in Guatemala do not include a piñata.
For example, Zunilito is located on the west coast of Guatemala and is known for its crops. Despite the fertility of the land, however, 83 percent of the population there suffers from food insecurity, which means the people do not always have access to food.
People in this area have to work hard to find job opportunities, but in the midst of everything they give thanks to God for what they have. Birthday celebrations are a great example of that.
In Zunilito, birthday celebrations always include a thanksgiving service. A service where they give thanks to God for the year He has granted the birthday child.
Angelica is the mother of two girls who are are enrolled at the Jesus Salva (Jesus Saves) Student Center in Zunilito.
She tells us,
“We celebrate our children’s birthdays with a thanksgiving service. The service begins with worship time, followed by a sermon from the pastor of our church. Finally, the guests come forward to congratulate the birthday child.”
“After everyone says their best wishes, the pastor prays for the family and the birthday boy or girl.”
These services take place at the home of the family or at their church. They decorate with balloons and crepe paper.
Guatemala has a family-oriented culture, so typically the entire family is invited to a birthday celebration. A small celebration can often become a big one.
In Angelica’s family, she tells us,
“We give tamales and birthday cake to our guests.”
Tamales in Guatemala are made out of maize dough, filled with chicken, and topped with a sauce made of roasted tomatoes, peppers and seeds.
But when asked about the piñata custom, Angelica shyly replies,
“Piñatas are included in the celebration only by those families who have a lot of money. Having a piñata is very expensive.”
Almost 81 percent of the population in Guatemala suffers some degree of food insecurity. People do not have access to food, which means they do not have access to a piñata or a cake for their birthdays.
And, 15 percent of Guatemalans who experience a severe degree of food insecurity sometimes do not even have access to any food on their birthday.
In spite of Guatemala’s cultural customs of celebrating birthdays, most families do not have the means to have a celebration for their children.
Through our ministry, children at the child development centers celebrate their birthdays according to the customs of their region.
Thanks to the Child Sponsorship  Program, children get to have a birthday celebration where they receive a birthday gift.
At the Jesus Salva Student Center, birthday celebrations begin with a time of worship. After worship, the center will have fun activities with the children.
The celebration continues with a small Bible lesson. Then the birthday children are called to the front so their classmates and the staff can congratulate them.
Finally all the children at the center sing “happy birthday.”
The staff gives a gift to each child who has a birthday that month.
Gifts usually consist of a new blouse or shirt. Each child gets cake and also party favors.
The cakes are made of vanilla dough with a dulce de leche filling and covered in frosting. They are usually decorated with Disney characters, soccer balls, clowns, or even SpongeBob SquarePants characters.
Party favors include candy, peanuts and a small toy for the children to play with.
For the majority of these children, this monthly birthday celebration is the only celebration and present they will receive for their birthday.
But thanks to you, more than 37,000 children in Guatemala get to celebrate their birthday with cake and a gift.