Sweet sixteen (birthday)

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A sweet sixteen is a coming of age party celebrating a person's 16th birthday, mainly celebrated in some parts of the United States and Canada. While some families throw large, lavish celebrations, others choose to celebrate the birthday as if it were a normal occurrence.

While traditionally it is common that sweet sixteens are mostly celebrated by girls, they can also be celebrated by boys. Sweet sixteens can range from modest parties at home with close family to large parties with a hired DJ, makeup, hair styling, expensive gowns and dresses, and hotel ballrooms. Even if it is a small party, the main purpose of the party is to celebrate the person's earliest stage of adulthood.[1]

Alternative sweet sixteen celebrations in the United States can include a religious or church ceremony also, like a Mass or a blessing at church. This religious or church ceremony has its origins in the Quinceañera style, but since there are many American-born Hispanic people, many choose to blend a sweet sixteen American style with their Quinceañera tradition. For example, the girl may go to the church for the religious ceremony and, then, while in the party, choose to have the sixteen-candle ceremony. The religious ceremony comes from the Hispanic tradition, while the sixteen candles ceremony comes from the American tradition.


Shoe ceremony[edit]

For girls, the shoe ceremony is common at Quinceañeras parties. In this ceremony, the birthday girl sits down in a chair while her father, grandfather, Godfather, Uncle, or brother approaches her, carrying a decorative pillow with high heels on top. The girl would traditionally be wearing flat shoes, such as slippers, and the father ceremoniously helps her into her new high heels. This is symbolic of the girl transitioning into a woman.[2]

Tiara ceremony[edit]

The tiara ceremony is similar to the shoe ceremony, except the mother or a strong female figure approaches with a tiara instead of shoes and places it on her daughter's head to symbolize her becoming a woman. Sometimes this is combined with the shoe ceremony so that two people approach the birthday girl, one with a pillow with high heels, and the other with a pillow with a tiara.[2]

Candle-lighting ceremony[edit]

This tradition is most common in Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Quinceaneras and sweet sixteens, although in different ages. There are typically 16 candles, each of which are given to special family members and friends by the birthday girl.[3] Usually, when the recipient of the candle is named, a few words are said by the birthday girl in regards to why this person (or people) is special to them, they may tell a short story or fun memory they have shared with that person. Although the birthday girl can decide to give her candles to whomever she chooses, in whichever order she wants, here is the traditional order of candles:[4]

- Each of the 16 candles holds a special meaning...

  • The first candle is for the girl's parents or guardians.
  • The second candle is for the siblings. (If there are no siblings, then this candle can represent the grandparents.)
  • Candles 3, 4, 5 and 6 are for the rest of the family members.
  • Candles 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 are for friends.
  • Candle 15 is for the girl's best friend or friends.
  • The 16th candle is for the boyfriend or the closest male friend.
  • Some add a 17th candle which represents good luck.[5]

First car[edit]

In Canada and many states in the United States, the minimum age to legally drive a car is 16. Sometimes, although rarely, the birthday person is gifted a car as a birthday present. The car can be either purchased new, used, or simply be gifted from one person to another (often within their family).

Other specific coming of age parties[edit]

Latin America[edit]

Similar celebrations are found in different cultures around the world, such as the quinceañera in Hispanic countries and the festa de debutantes in Brazil, both at 15 years of age.


In the Philippines, the debut (pronounced 'de-boo) celebrates a young woman's 18th birthday. A young man may also celebrate his own debut on his 21st birthday, albeit with less formal celebrations or none at all.


Coming of Age Day at Atsuta Shrine (Nagoya).

Coming of Age Day (成人の日, Seijin no Hi) is a Japanese holiday held annually. It is held in order to congratulate and encourage all those who have reached or will reach the age of maturity. Festivities include coming of age ceremonies (成人式, seijin-shiki) held at local and prefectural offices, as well as after-parties among family and friends.


In Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, girls reach maturity at the age of 12, celebrated with a bat mitzvah, and for boys (and girls, in the Reform movement) at the age of 13, with a bar mitzvah, or for both, with a B'nai mitzvah and both girls, with a b'not mitzvah. These are important dates in the Jewish culture, because following these ceremonies, bar or bat mitzvah, the young person is considered an adult.


In many Christian denominations, both girls and boys reach the age of spiritual maturity at around the age of 13 or 14, with the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Popular culture[edit]


Songs that talk about or represent sweet 16s.

Film and television[edit]

Celebrity sweet 16'ners[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ames, Lynn (4 January 1978). "Sweet Sixteen: A Rite That Persists". New York Times.
  2. ^ a b "What is Sweet Sixteen and How to celebrate it?". Cher. 15 September 2017. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Sweet Sixteen Candle Lighting Ceremony in the BEGINNING or END?". Luminique Events Group. 17 April 2019.
  4. ^ March 29, Staff WriterLast Updated (4 August 2015). "What Is the Sweet 16 Candle Ceremony?". Reference.com.
  5. ^ March 29, Staff WriterLast Updated (4 August 2015). "What Is the Sweet 16 Candle Ceremony?". Reference.com.
  6. ^ Sarner, Lauren (5 June 2019). "Who is Cher Hubsher? From 'My Super Sweet 16' to 'sMothered'". New York Post.
  7. ^ "Cymphonique Miller's Sweet 16 Birthday Party". Celeb Secrete. 31 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Kendall Jenner: Inside Her 16th Birthday Bash—and That Awesome Bubble!". E! Online. 2011.
  9. ^ "Kylie Jenner's Sweet 16 Birthday Bash | ExtraTV.com". Extra.
  10. ^ "Cake Boss Buddy Valastro's Daughter Sofia Is 16! See Everything from Her Extravagant Birthday Party". PEOPLE.com.
  11. ^ "Nia Sioux Hosts Her Sweet 16 in Los Angeles". CelebMix. 23 June 2017.
  12. ^ "North West and More Stars Attend JoJo Siwa's Sweet 16 Birthday Party". E! Online. 2019.
  13. ^ "Inside Dance Moms Star Chloe Lukasiak's Sweet 16 Party". E! Online. 2017.
  14. ^ "Jaslene Gonzalez". Mis Quince Magazine. 5 February 2008.
  15. ^ "Madison Pettis' Celebrates Her Sweet 16 with a Star-Studded Party – Photos & Videos Inside!". Celeb Secrets. 2 August 2014.
  16. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: We Were at Zendaya's Sweet 16 | TigerBeat". 2 September 2012.
  17. ^ "Nickelodeon's Keke Palmer Celebrates Sweet 16". PEOPLE.com.
  18. ^ "Olivia Holt Sweet 16 For Charity!". Sweety High. 5 August 2013.
  19. ^ "4 Big Reasons To Tune Into China's Sweet 16 on CELEBrations". Sweety High. 23 January 2015.
  20. ^ "Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell's Son Baylee Makes His Country Music Debut During His Sweet 16 Bash". PEOPLE.com.