Jamaica Magazine

My First Jamaican Birthday Party by American Retiree in Jamaica

Written by John Casey

Birthday parties are as unique and exciting as the person who plans the event. Birthday parties come as varied as just two special people having a candlelit dinner together to a gala bash with hundreds of guests in the grand ballroom of a swank hotel. What makes each party memorable is the love of the caring person who
made sure everything was perfect. Or, it could be receiving that long sought after gift that you never would have bought yourself. Perhaps, it is an exotic and romantic dinner on the beach while violins play your favorite music. The point is that day, that gift, and that place are happy times for the recipient and the guest.

My first Jamaican birthday party was a surprise, even to me, and it wasn’t my birthday. It all started when one member of the community invited a group of people to her recently completed home. Besides being an upscale home, it also sat at the crest of a large hill which overlooked Montego Bay and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the date was set for a time I would be off the island. The hostess, sensing my disappointment, assured me she would invite me upon my return. As promised, within a few weeks of returning to Jamaica, the invitation came for my wife and I to attend a dinner party at her house. The long awaited day arrived. Armed with a bottle of wine, we made our way to the mansion on the hill. It was spectacular! From the unique interior designs to the breathtaking view from the veranda, it was more than we imagined.

As the evening progressed, about twenty people arrived for this gala dinner party. After cocktails, we all sat down to enjoy a sumptuous meal. It was at this point we found out it was the host’s birthday party. I thought that was unusual, it made me feel embarrassed as we didn’t bring so much as a card for the birthday boy. Dinner
was exquisite and the guests all enjoyed themselves. The meal ended with traditional cake and ice cream. There weren’t any presents to be opened, only birthday wishes from around the table. It was a wonderful evening meeting new people and sharing a birthday party with the host. Presents weren’t necessary because the guest of honor was surrounded by loving friends and family.

A couple of years later, the phone rang about 12:30 on Sunday afternoon inviting us to a birthday party at 4:00 that afternoon. As soon as I got off the phone, panic set in! This was the first ‘known’ birthday party we had been invited to in Jamaica. Questions like ‘What will we bring?’ and ‘Where can we find a present in such a
short period of time?’ The only person I knew who could answer that question hadn’t got home from church yet. When he finally did get home, he told me a bottle of wine would be appropriate. I checked the ‘wine cellar’, er, pantry and found one bottle of white wine and one bottle of red wine. I chose the red because I didn’t have time
to chill the white.

As I said, the party started at 4:00. Well, she did say 4:00, but that doesn’t mean the party will start at that time. One of my Jamaican friends told me years ago that most Jamaicans arrive a half an hour or later than the stated starting time. I did remember that but my instinct was to be on time, as I always am. The battle
within ended in a compromise, we arrived at 4:15. Of course, we were still the first ones there. The veranda was in the beginning stages of being decorated. The hostess made a brief appearance, then disappeared. Time was passing slowly…4:30, 5:00, 5:30, 6:00. During this time, the other guests started to arrive. A few here and there but still no further sign of the hostess. Finally, a little after 6:00, someone other than the hostess announced the party was about to begin.

We figured the party was a two week belated birthday party for the man of the house. Our intuition was correct, as far as it went. We found out that two of his children had birthdays that month, too. Four other guests also were celebrating their birthdays that month, including me! We were beginning to see why there was one party
instead of seven. It was a great party with only the smallest kids getting presents. The ages of the birthdays ranged from 1 to 66! One thing that was different at this party was that it took a lot longer singing ‘Happy Birthday” to seven different people. I’m still wondering to this day if this party was typical of Jamaicans or just
some crafty planning by the hostess.

About the author

John Casey