How sweet is your Sweet Sixteen?

Casey H.

Staff Writer

In American culture, the ultimate coming-of-age ceremony is the Sweet 16. Often celebrated as a teenager’s official transition to adulthood, 16th birthdays have taken precedence over almost every other birthday throughout a person’s life. With movies such as Sixteen Candles and television shows like MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, it is no surprise that the event is synonymous with parties and fanfare, and many students take advantage of this initiation with extravagant celebrations and expensive gifts.

Many believe that the origin of the Sweet 16 comes from one of two sources. The obvious one is theQuinceañera, a Latin American girl’s induction into adulthood. This takes place on the 15th birthday and includes traditions such as a pink dress, a court with 14 boys and 14 girls, and a dance with the father. The other possibility is that the concept of a Sweet 16 stems from traditions in medieval Europe, where a girl would be presented to a court in her early teens. This would mean that she was ready for marriage. No matter the origins, it is obvious that a 16th birthday is a momentous occasion, especially for girls.

In addition to the aspects of the birthday that have been around for centuries, there are also new responsibilities that are granted. The most famous one is the ability for teenagers to obtain their driver’s license a year and a day after they get their learner’s permit. Depending on whether teens get their permits on their 15th birthday or not, they can be legally driving in as short a time as a day after they turn 16. Another constraint that is lifted upon a teenager’s 16th birthday is the number of hours he or she is able to work. At 14 and 15, labor laws dictate that an employee can only work 18 hours per school week and 40 hours per non-school week. These hours are raised (and, consequently, so are salaries) to 40 hours per school week and 48 hours per non-school week when a teen turns 16. Other such laws include the ability to get married (in Georgia) and the ability to drop out of schoolalso in Georgia, with parental consent).

Aside from all the laws and restrictions and history, what is really astonishing about 16th birthdays is the fanfare that is almost synonymous with the occasion. The birthday has been glorified, with shows such as My Super Sweet 16 portraying over-the-top parties with gifts that would cost a few years’ salary of a normal job and budgets that could feed a small- or big- country. The sons and daughters of celebrities, these birthday boys and girls are oftensweet-16 thrown the best parties that money can offer and given gifts that range from BMWs to customized Lamborghinis to breast enhancement surgery. Even the invitations are over-the-top, including but not limited to voiced-over invitations on MP3 players and silver medallions from Mexico.

However, these parties are woefully out of touch with reality. Normal students here at Woodstock do not have parents who get a best-selling musician or star athlete’s salary, leaving the majority of the population with parties that, while not as extravagant, are still fun. Sophomore Alissa Beckett described her sixteenth birthday, saying, “I saw Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco with my two best friends on the night of Homecoming, and I had more fun than I ever would have at Homecoming.” Some activities are not as expensive, such as the celebration of sophomore Olivia Davis, who had planned what she referred to as a “generic party,” where the “cake would be a plain white circle cake with the word ‘CAKE’ written in black icing, and the decorations would be pieces of paper taped to the wall with the words ‘CELEBRATORY DECORATIONS’ on them.” Some birthdays are less celebrated than others, such as that of sophomore Daniel Maloney, who “went to school and opened presents. That’s it.” Whether it is a day at the pool, a movie night, or just going to school and opening presents with family, there are many ways to celebrate without breaking the bank.

The Quinceañera is a fifteen-year-old Latina’s induction into womanhood. The bar or bat mitzvah is the coming-of-age ceremony of Jewish boys and girls. The Début is celebrated by Filipino girls about to become women. Confirmation is the acceptance of teenagers as official members of the church. Whether one honors these celebrations or not, everyone gets his or her own Sweet 16, which is the ultimate coming-of-age ceremony in the United States. Loved and glorified by teenagers all over the country, the Sweet 16 is looked forward to by all and can be celebrated in ways as big as buying a car and booking a DJ and as small as a dinner and a few gifts. No matter what, make sure to get a cake and blow out the candles; maybe the birthday will be like Samantha Baker’s in Sixteen Candles, and all one’s wishes will come true.

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