The 15th birthday party tradition
Different cultures have different traditions. When Jewish children turn 13, they may have a Bar Mitzvah (for boys) or Bat Mitzvah (for girls). Depending on the family’s resources, it can be a lavish celebration in luxury hotels, with gourmet food and a hired band.
In the Latin cultures, a girl’s 15th birthday is an excuse for a big celebration. Some families spend enormous amounts of money to “introduce her to society”. Unfortunately, it’s not really about the teenager. Many times wealthy parents just want to show off to their friends and family how much money they have. That’s specially true of the “nouveau riche”.
When I turned 15, I was living in Brazil and I knew I did not want a lavish party. I was skeptical of the whole idea of being introduced to society. At the age of 15, I was still a kid. I was told that the 15 birthday was important since girls could start officially dating. I wasn’t prepared to date anyone seriously, which at my age I felt was utterly ridiculous. My job was to study, get good grades, have friends and obey my parents. I wasn’t wiling to be introduced to society nor I wanted to have a serious boyfriend who I would date exclusively and marry a few years later.
Several decades later, the 15th birthday tradition seems sexist and backwards as ever. It’s from a time when women were married off to desirable men at a very young age. It’s from a time when women had few options in life other than get married and have babies. It comes from a position of class and privilege since girls from poor families could not be properly introduced to “society”.
The tradition still exists among the more traditional families in Brazil and Mexico (called the Quincañera), as well as other South American countries. In the US, the closest thing to this tradition are the debutante balls in NYC and the sweet 16th birthday party for girls. However, the Sweet 16th it is not meant to be an “introduction to society” as much as a landmark of a girl becoming a woman, and debutante balls are really demode.. I imagine there may be some families that throw lavish parties for 16 year olds, but I think they are very rare.
More important is to give girls tools to become adults. To teach them empowerment, to help them discover their strengths and talents and guide them into a career where they can be useful to society and be happy. Teach them about safe sex, nutrition, health and personal safety. Leave the ball gowns for when they really become a woman.
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