Alia’s 1st Birthday Party – Western or Middle Eastern?

Alia’s 1st birthday party was last Friday. Read here for my post about the planning of this party.

It’s taken me a few days to collect my thoughts to let you know how it went. Despite my best intentions and efforts I don’t think that I can describe the party as a Western style 1st birthday. Ok so maybe the planning, preparation (mostly) and set up where Western styled but the implementation went a little differently than I had pictured. In reality I had set myself up for the disappointment  that I felt for not having achieved the party that I had in my mind. After all I live in Jordan, the guests were Jordanian and their behaviours, expectations and norms are Middle Eastern and not Western. Does that means it’s wrong? No, just different from what my cultural expectations and norms are and the two collided in trying to host a Western style 1st birthday party.

I had lots of fun makings the decorations and setting up the area and table in the theme of butterflies and pink. I attached the butterflies that I had found to strings of fake pearls and hung them from the light. I made bunting and a table cloth from the the two types of pink materials that I had bought. Topped off with some pink ribbon bows to gather the top layer of the table cloth I thought that the effect was very pretty and was pleased with my craft work.


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I was able to prepare the menu nearly as I wanted with only a couple of small variations due to Middle Eastern factors! The week before the supermarket had had cream cheese and I had planned to make cream cheese frosting. The week of the party of course they didn’t have any. So quick change of plan and I tentatively purchased a box of frosting powder. You added cold milk to the sachet of powder and then beat it on high speed for 3 minutes until it resembled the texture of soft whipped cream. I was surprised at how good it actually worked out and whilst it wasn’t cream cheese frosting it did the job. The other thing that eluded me was 100’s and 1000’s which I had wanted to dip the chocolate marshmallows in. I couldn’t find those or even sprinkles so resorted to good old trusty shredded coconut. I went as far as giving making fondant a go to create butterflies for the tops of the cupcakes and was surprised at just how easy it was to make marshmallow fondant from scratch. Whilst my butterflies were far from perfect and all unique I was pleased with the effect.

I baked 24 vanilla cupcakes and 26 chocolate ones and decorated them with the packet mix frosting and my fondant butterflies and layered them into three tiers for the birthday cake. Completing the birthday party menu was hedgehog, raspberry jellies, chocolate dipped marshmallows and some fresh strawberries.


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I had invited everyone to come at 3:30. Now I knew that the guests would be late as this is very typical of Jordanians. Time is very much an approximation and not at all exact . What I wasn’t prepared for was just how late some of them would arrive and more so that so many of them didn’t show up at all. The first guests arrived around 4:00 which wasn’t too bad. No one from Atef’s immediate family had arrived by 4:30. Atef had to ring them and by 5:00 three of the adults and four of the kids (out of 12 adults and 7 kids) had turned up and that was all that were coming. (Granted that one of Atef’s brothers and his wife weren’t able to make it as she went into labour that morning!) We still had 20 people at Alia’s party, but I was left feeling deflated that there weren’t more of Alia’s aunties and uncles there.

I pushed on and said to everyone that it was time for the blowing of the candles and cake and gathered everyone around the table. I was asked by several of the guests where was the cake. Apparently the cupcake birthday cake just didn’t cut it as a birthday cake as it couldn’t be “cut”! I think they found it amusing that I stuck some candles into the cupcakes on the top tier and blew them out.

Whilst the cake didn’t look like what the guest expected I was told several times just how yummy the cupcakes were along with the other party food that I had made. The chocolate marshmallows on the skewers impressed and were a big hit. The birthday girl had fun firstly eating a vanilla cupcake, followed up by a chocolate cupcake and finishing off with some jelly.


Oh and my hope that the guests would be gone by 5:30 didn’t eventuate either. Most had left by 5:45, but the family were waiting to be picked up to go and visit the new niece/granddaughter. Finally at 7:00 with my nerves very frayed from having a tired daughter, not having achieved the Western style party  that I had imagined and the 18 month old and 2 1/2 year old having meltdowns, instead of being able to put Alia to bed and putting my feet up to relax I told Atef that he was taking all of us to visit the new baby. I just needed everyone out of the house and if that meant I had to go with them then that’s what it took.

Our new niece is a cutey and it was lovely to be able to see her and congratulate her parents. We finally got home around 8:40 and Alia although tired had been very well behaved at the hospital. It was straight to bed for the tired little party girl and I didn’t hear a peep out of her until 9:00 the next morning.

Will I try and do a Western style party again? How I’m feeling at the moment is No! For me the energy and effort that it took didn’t get the results that I wanted and weren’t really appreciated. Sure the food was enjoyed, but the decorations and theme were lost on the guests. More so what doesn’t fit in with a Western style party is the lack of importance that is placed on the starting time and even attending. It’s too hard to try and host a party when you don’t know when or how many guests will turn up. Culture is ingrained and one Westerner isn’t going to change that in one party. Does that mean that I will attempt to host a Middle Eastern style party in the future. Hmmmm….not sure, as they say if you can’t beat them, join them, but to be honest I’m not sure that it’s something that I really want to join. I like being Western, I embrace my culture. It defines who I am and is something that I identify with and living in a foreign country and having a child has in some ways made me hold onto this even more. I want to teach Alia about my culture and western ways. Finding the balance will be the challenge.

3 responses to “Alia’s 1st Birthday Party – Western or Middle Eastern?

  1. Hey Babe. After living in Amman for 3.5 years, I have thrown numberous birthday parties for my 3 kiddos. I do an American style party, sort of…here’s what I do. I have birthday decor that is used for all birthdays (streamers, banners, pom-pom string, balloons, birthday paper plates, etc). I have birthday music in English and Arabic (can buy a birthday cd at your local music shop for 1 jd and it is music your guests are accustom to). I order pizza…because it is American, easy, kids like it (adults not so much, but hey it’s a kids party). We sing happy birthday and blow out candles. Lots of fun games! The games are the best part of the party…the kids hear are not use to playing games for parties…so they really have fun and it gives me the opportunity to play rather than host (afterall, it’s my kids party and I want to play, not play hostess and serve tea and coffee all night). I let the guests do whatever they are comfortable with and try to focus on my kiddos…it’s easier for me then trying to do their culture and trying to have a fun party for my kids. I also keep it small, so I don’t get totally overwelmed (no need to invite 50 distant cousins). I am sure the longer you are here, you will get more familiar with his family and who likes to do what….invite those who enjoy coming and that you enjoy being with. Happy Birthday to your sweetheart…looking forward to meeting you someday!

    • Thanks Bethany for the words of wisdom and I’m definitely taking on board all your suggestions for how to have a fun party! I’m looking forward to meeting you soon as well.

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