When you’re a child, your birthday feels like the most important day of the year. Adults tend to grumble at the prospect of getting older, but kids find the whole concept of “growing up” to be exciting. It’s no surprise, then, that birthdays associated with major milestones are viewed as especially significant. Today’s post is all about two kinds of special birthdays: the Sweet 16 and the quinceañera!
For many American youths, 16 is probably the most important birthday they’ll celebrate before they reach legal adulthood. At 16, a young person can get a driver’s license and a job—and, more importantly, they can enjoy the freedom and be expected to cope with the responsibilities that come with both. A 16-year-old isn’t quite grown up yet, but they’re getting close. It makes sense, then, that they’d want to celebrate the occasion with a bit more fanfare that they would on a 14th or 17th birthday.
While TV shows like My Super Sweet 16 may give the impression that it’s not a “real” Sweet 16 party unless you spend thousands of dollars on the event, a brand new luxury car gets rolled out as a gift, and the birthday girl throws at least one tantrum that even Veruca Salt (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame) might find embarrassing, a Sweet 16 doesn’t have to be an exercise in excess. It can simply be a fun, spirited party that includes family and friends.
Though some Americans seem to think that a quinceañera is basically the same thing as a Sweet 16, it’s important to understand that the former is much more steeped in tradition than the latter. In the olden days, many Latin American cultures considered a girl to be marriageable once she turned 15, so the quinceañera celebration really did mark a girl’s ascent into maturity. A lot of the customs still practiced at modern-day quinceañeras—including trading flat slippers for high-heeled shoes or the birthday girl being presented with a “last doll” (and, in some cases, passing that doll on to a younger female family member during the ceremony) all represent putting away childish things and embracing adulthood. In the 21st century, it’s still fairly common for more conservative Latino parents to forbid their daughters from wearing makeup, hanging out with boys, or shaving their legs (and/or plucking their eyebrows) until after they’ve turned 15—that’s considered the point at which a little girl is old enough to engage in such grownup activities!
Also, while modern-day quinceañeras can be secular, they tend to be heavily associated with catholic iconography and customs—in fact, attending Mass is usually the first step to any quinceañera celebration, and birthday girls are expected to cover up with a shawl or jacket if their party gown isn’t modest enough to wear to church. Bibles, crosses, and rosaries are common gifts, especially from family members. And though modern girls may choose to wear dresses in bold or vibrant colors, it used to be considered almost scandalous to wear anything other than white or pastel pink on one’s big day, because those were (and, in a lot of places, still are) the colors of purity and virginity.
We could spend an entire post just talking about quinceañera conventions and etiquette, but it’s probably best that we move on. Here’s one final note on the subject, though: calling a 15th birthday party a “quinceañera” is technically incorrect. In actuality, the event should be referred to as a “fiesta de quince años” (literally, “party of 15 years”), while the birthday girl herself is the “quinceañera” (literally, “15-year-old [girl/woman]”). However, a substantial number of folks—especially in the United States—still call the whole affair “a quinceañera celebration” or “a quinceañera party,” and that’s frequently just shortened to “a quinceañera” for simplicity’s sake. While you may raise some eyebrows by using improper terminology, most people will know what you mean if you say that you’re “planning a quinceañera.”
How to Celebrate
Regardless of whether you’re celebrating a Sweet 16 or a quinceañera, here are some tips for throwing the perfect birthday bash:
- Book a venue. One of the hallmarks of a special birthday party is that the event is held at a venue. You can host the event at home, but there’s something inherently jovial about getting dressed up and heading to a party room at a restaurant or other establishment! Plus, professional party sites will nearly always offer ample room for dancing and other activities (more on that in a second), which are absolutely critical for a festive evening!
- Make arrangements for food. Hiring a professional caterer for a birthday party can take a substantial amount of stress off of the hosts; instead of worrying about whether or not everyone has been fed or who’s going to clean up once the party is over, Dad can focus on pulling off an impressive father-daughter dance, and Mom can spend her time socializing with family members (and making sure that the teenage guests aren’t getting into mischief!). Even if you opt to forgo the professional party venue in favor of celebrating at home, it may still be a good idea to leave food and beverage duties to the professionals. Catered meals, after all, nearly always feel fancy!
- Get your hands on party supplies. We went over this before in our post about planning holiday parties, but it bears repeating: “party supplies” can include food, decor, games, drinks, photo booths, and other amenities of that nature. Exactly how many of these things you’ll need to supply yourself depends upon your party venue. Some places ONLY offer a room, while others supply decorations and décor but no food, and some places offer food, a pre-decorated party environment, and electronic entertainment systems. With a birthday party or a quinceañera, you’ll also need to take into account both the birthday girl’s wishes and religious/cultural traditions to know exactly what you need.
Let’s be honest: pulling off a great party can be a bit of an ordeal, and families often feel immense pressure to make a fifteenth or sixteenth birthday absolutely perfect for their “little princess.” At the end of the day, though, birthday parties are about coming together and having a great time. When you celebrate a young lady’s birthday, you honor the life she’s lived so far and feel excitement for what her future may hold. It can be heartwarming, it can be bittersweet, but it should always be fun for everyone—friends, family, and, of course, the birthday girl herself!
And remember: at Mattito’s, we’re always looking for a reason to enjoy a fiesta. So if you’ve got a special birthday coming up, we’ll be happy to help make it a day to remember!