In the U.S. we know it as the Sweet Sixteen–perhaps mostly experienced through terrible TV shows–but in many Latin cultures girls have their coming of age birthday party at age 15. And it’s a big deal.
I would liken them to weddings: a wedding with a bride but the bridegroom is yet TBD. The birthday girl is dressed to the nines with sometimes a costume change as the evening progresses. And like a wedding, they are often extravagant affairs that can cost several months’ worth of salary or more.
Allison and I attended Brissa’s quinceañera this past weekend. Brissa is our friend Igor’s sister, and we’ve had the opportunity to get to know her through several wonderful meals and visits to their parent’s house where Igor, Sanny, and their young girl, Lluvia, had also been living until recently buying their own house.
We went to Brissa’s house the morning of the party as Igor had invited us to help with some of the prep. Our crew was in charge of making the punch which consisted of pureed fruit, sweetened-condensed milk, sparkling cider, and pop. We got stuff opened, blended, poured, and mixed in no time. I got a percussion lesson on the congos, and afterwards we were invited to stay for a Paraguayan asado which consisted of sopa paraguaya, yucca, and, of course, lots of delicious grilled meat. We also got an early peek at the gift (in addition to the party) from the parents: a brand new motorcycle!
That evening we returned for the party just as the sun was setting. Igor was in the kitchen frying up some of his much-requested french fries for the party and Brissa was having a pre-party photo shoot with the hired photographer. We took this opportunity to snap some of our own photos of, as well as get a photo with the birthday girl.
We found ourselves some seats at the table with Sanny’s parents, chatting some with them but mostly entertaining ourselves with watching whatever was happening around us. At the appropriate time everyone gathered around the dessert table while Brissa blew out the candles of her birthday cake. Immediately after the clapping subsided kids began chanting “bad girl, bad girl…” and then pushed her face into the cake. Another quinceañera tradition, I assume.
A quick outfit change and Brissa was back while the rest of us finished up some yummy birthday cake. With the change in outfit the night shifted to more of a dance party atmosphere. The music changed, masks and glowsticks came out, and there were a bunch of teenies dancing just a few feet from our table. It was getting to be time for us old folks to be heading home, but I couldn’t miss this opportunity to chat it up a bit longer with our friends Igor and Sanny.
Eventually we said our goodbyes, thank yous, and another round of well-wishes to the birthday girl and walked back home through the chill night air, appreciative of having shared in the tradition and celebration of this big milestone in the life of Brissa.