My dad just recently turned 68. To commemorate this special occasion, my sister came up with the idea of throwing him a surprise birthday party!
I thought this was a particularly fab idea because not only would it be a wonderful way to start my dad’s year, but I also thought that it would be a fitting tribute to a man who has been so important to my entire family. We’ve never thrown my dad a surprise party ever, so it was a task that I was very much looking forward to :).
I consider myself extremely lucky that I have a dad that I admire very much. Simply put, my dad is my hero :). As a person, he has many qualities that I look up to. He has set many good examples that have inspired me throughout my life, and that have influenced the person that I’ve become.
To my mind, this party had to be nothing short of special to properly honor and thank my dad for all he’s done for my familia. A pretty tall order, but we were all up for the challenge! There’s nothing that gets my juices going like an opportunity to get creative!
We dubbed the secret operation “Project James”. I’ll explain the name in a bit. The “team” was composed of my mom, my sister and I. Mom was in charge of the guest list. Sis was in charge of the venue, the menu, and the music/sounds. All the design stuff was my responsibility. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to get started!!!
First we had to decide on a theme. That was pretty easy enough because my dad is someone who has a gajillion interests. His obsession of the month is his upcoming pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain–or more popularly known as The Way of St. James (hence, the project name :)). The journey can take as much as 70 days and has different routes and starting points in Europe, but all roads in the end lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, believed to be the burial site of the apostle, St. James.
Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims flock to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most travel on foot, alone or in groups, both for religious or non-religious reasons. According to Wikipedia, “many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life, and acts as a retreat for many modern pilgrims.”
We are all very excited for my dad to take this journey, and excited for the discoveries he will be making along the way. To show our all out support, we thought it would be nice to throw a Santiago de Compostela/Spanish-themed party! Here is how it turned out:
I tried to dramatize the Spanish theme by focusing on the color palette: black, white and pops of bright red. I thought it turned out quite well!
Each table was named after a town that is along the route of my dad’s journey. Sarria, Spain is his starting point. Thanks to my colleague C, for doing such a great job on the signs :)! These were inspired by the actual road markers found along the way towards Santiago de Compostela. The scallop shell has become the mythical and metaphorical symbol of the pilgrimage.
Providing the backdrop to the road signs are deep red carnations, and japanese paper flowers that I myself DIY-ed :). Labor of love talaga! Hahaha! The candle holders are A’s recycled food bottles :).
To add a bit of interest to the tables, and to provide our guests with a bit more information about Santiago de Compostela, I also made some chair tags featuring notable sights or scenes from each town. It looks like my dad will have his fill of old cathedrals, medieval cemeteries, and loads of green fields!!! Hahaha!
Thanks as well to my colleague K, for helping me to execute the stained window design that I used in the various party elements :).
I also made some paper poms that were hung from a beam that ran across the diameter of the room. It was the only part of the ceiling that could be reached! Hahaha! Again, I thought it helped to give that extra pop of red and vibrancy to the room :).
The focal point of the room was the dessert table. I am particularly proud of how this turned out! I had a picture of the Cathedral blown up (special thanks to C and A who made this possible!) and used it as a backdrop to the sweets that were all in red, black and white/cream color. The desserts were flanked by souvenirs with personalized labels, and again, my paper flowers
Instead of going with my usual fondant cake, I decided to have a cupcake spread made instead. I worked with Aisa Atilano of Aisa Atilano Cake Design. She is really quite talented, and I loved how this spread turned out! So cute! And best of all, my dad really liked it!
I also ordered super yummy mini red velvet cupcakes from Paolo Banaga, and mini oreo and chocolate donuts from Cello’s Donuts and Dips–both of which were devoured immediately by the guests. The night’s biggest “casualty”, however, was the mille crepe cake by Mara dela Rama. Not only was it a hit amongst the guests, but it’s my dad’s all-time favorite cake as well :). There wasn’t even a tiny morsel left!!!
For souvenirs, big sis ordered some personal-sized wines. I designed the labels using the stained glass pattern I also used in the invitations and chair tags, and added a sketch of Santiago de Compostela that I found online :). Pwede na, diba?
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the yummy fare we had that evening, but the menu consisted of squid ink seafood pasta, a spaghetti with cream sauce (similar to carbonara), paella valenciana, a special iberian chicken, juicy and fall-off-the-bone grilled pork ribs, salad and fruits. Catering was done by The Last Chukker at The Manila Polo Club. I guess the guests really enjoyed the food because we got so many compliments afterwards :). If ever you have access to The Last Chukker, I highly recommend you have a meal there. The food is awesome!!!
To add to the evening’s ambience, we also hired a guitarist who played classical Spanish songs throughout the night.
Lastly, to tie in the black, white and red Spanish theme, we also had my entire family dress up in various permutations of this color combination. This is how we looked like:
Since this post is becoming quite long, I will no longer share the other details about the party such as the heart-warming speeches, and the “special” one-night-only number. I think it’s safe to say, however, that Project James was a smashing success! My dad was truly surprised and overwhelmed that we even brought tears to his eyes! By that very token, I would definitely say, “Mission Accomplished!” Hahaha!
I am extremely happy not only with the way everything from the decor to the food turned out, but the fact that for one evening, we were able to make my dad feel really happy and loved. It is always a dilemma for me to think of something to gift my dad with for his birthday. What DO you get someone who has everything? Truth be told, I think we outdid ourselves with this party, and this was the best gift of them all :).
P.S. Photographs are courtesy of the lovely people at Contact Live Photography–Adele and Aldo. Pleasure working with you guys!