Happy 365 Days!
Abstract: What was your favorite birthday like? After four months of detailed planning, my host family put on an amazing party for their grandson’s first birthday. Read all about the party and learn what it says about Dominican life and culture.
Introduction: The Dominican Republic is a nation rich in cultural traditions. Often, these traditions have religious origins. The majority of people in the Dominican Republic are Catholic. The traditions of Catholicism are a big part of Dominican culture.
Some examples of Catholic traditions in the Dominican Republic include Lent and Easter. Lent is the period of the forty days before Easter. Many Dominicans make sacrifices such as giving up sweets to honor the sacrifices made by Jesus Christ. Sweet bean porridge is a traditional dessert served during this season.
The week before Easter is Holy Week. Dominicans have off from work and often travel to the beach. In Santiago, Catholics complete a short pilgrimage, or journey to show religious dedication. They walk on foot to visit various alters and different churches around the city.
Another religious tradition is mourning the dead for seven years after they have passed. My host mom’s father died six years ago this month. On the anniversary of his death, friends and family gather at his home to share food and attend mass. This is done every year for seven years.
One of the most famous traditions is Carnaval. Carnaval takes place before the start of Lent. It started as a final celebration before the sacrifices of the season of Lent must start. Today, people dress up and listen to loud music in the streets. There are parades and costume parties every week during the month of Carnaval.
Many of these traditions are not unique to the Dominican Republic. Do you know which ones are also celebrated in the United States? How can you learn about different traditions in the United States and other cultures?
What tradition did I learn about?
Recently, I had the chance to participate in a Dominican tradition familiar to everyone in the United States. It was a birthday party! But this wasn’t just any birthday party. It was the first birthday of my host parent’s first grandson.
In the Dominican Republic, the first birthday and the 15th birthday are two of the most important and most celebrated. My host family put in a lot of effort and planning for their grandson Sebastian’s birthday. The family bought a cake, planned a party, and attended mass at church. Family from all over the Dominican Republic and the United States came to celebrate with baby Sebastian.
The tradition of celebrating a first birthday says a lot about culture in the Dominican Republic. For example, extended family members flew in from as far away as New York and Chicago. It is very common that there are many people in the extended family. Also, the extended family members have close relationships. Many who are living in the United States come back to the Dominican Republic frequently. Some plan to retire here. Despite the fact that these families extend across nations, they are still often tight-knit.
My host mom started making preparations for the big day four months in advance. She made a lot of the things by hand in order to save money. She designed centerpieces in the shape of colorful pirate boats. She sewed goodie bags to fill with candy. She painted life-sized pirate monkeys to decorate the yard the day of the party. She also made eye patches, pirate hats and most of the food.
My host mom wanted everything to look perfect. She wants her daughter to start a party business using the large back yard they have. Her daughter already has two part-time jobs and is very busy. Still, a lot of people in the Dominican Republic need to have multiple jobs in order to earn enough to support families. I have met a lot of Dominicans who make and sell things in addition to having a full-time job. What are some other reasons why this might be necessary?
A few weeks before the party, when everything was ready, my host mom hand-delivered the invitations. Can you guess why? Unlike the United States, the Dominican Republic does not have a reliable mail system. Therefore, it’s necessary to hand deliver things or use special companies to make sure people get what you’re sending.
All the hard work paid off. In the end, the party was full of people. Baby Sebastian had a great time, and so did I!
Why does the community have this tradition?
The first year of life is important to many parents. In the Dominican Republic, where most people are Catholic, this year is important for several reasons. The baby gets baptized in his first year if his family is Catholic. Baptism is a special ceremony that celebrates the entrance of a child into a Christian church.
This is also an important time because it represents the growth of the extended family. Sebastian is the first grandchild of my host parents. They are grandparents for the first time. Also, all the uncles, aunts and cousins came together to help care for the baby and celebrate his arrival. It is a very special time for a close-knit extended family.
Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?
The preparations for this party were very connected to the environment. My host mom made a lot of things by hand instead of buying them in the store. A lot of products in stores in the Dominican Republic are imported from the United States. Sometimes this means they are very expensive. Also, importing products means using a lot of extra energy, such as the fuel used to power the jets that carry the products overseas.
My host mom helped reduce her impact on the environment by buying local products and doing the preparations herself. Also, my host mom used a lot of recycled products such as cardboard boxes to prepare for the party. Recycling is another way to reduce costs and your impact on the environment.
Whether it’s cooking dessert or sewing pirate eye patches, everything we do has an impact on the environment. How can you make sure that impact is positive?