Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

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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May 20, 2010 - Posted by | Being a woman, Difference between cultures

2 Comments »

  1. Thank you for this very important information for me. I have my son and two granddaughters in Oliveria, Brazil. I use to visit every year but as I got older the trip is very straining on me, my last trip was 2012. My son is divorced in Brazil and has not been back to the U.S. in 12 years. (he has custody). Thank God for Skype and live messaging on Facebook, I talk/see the girls often. The oldest girl turned 15 yesterday! I saw pictures of the fun she had at school, my son mentioned the church was giving her a party with beautiful decorations. This sounded so sweet so I asked him if 15 is a special celebration in Brazil. He hasn’t replied to that, so I went to the wonderful ‘Google’ and now I am upset that I did not know about this special day for my granddaughter! I am printing all info I can find and I love your article (she is still a ‘kid’) but why won’t it print? I will look for your reply, thank you, Grandma in South Carolina

    Comment by Sandy McKenna | March 10, 2016 | Reply

    • Yes Sandy, it’s a very old fashioned celebration from when girls became “women” (15, imagine that!!!) and we’re finally allowed to date. Remember, women would get married at 18 or 20 in the old days. A way to introduce them to society so they could find a good husband… It’s still a tradition, and the richer the family, the more they show off with grand parties. I preferred a trip when I turned 15. The Hispanic countries also have that tradition, it’s called quincanera. Isn’t it a shame they didn’t invite you to attend??? As the girl’s grandmother? Ask me anything else you don’t understand from my former culture. Hugs.

      Comment by Brasilmagic | March 10, 2016 | Reply


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