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Chapter Four – Structuring the Party – Sweet 16 Rituals
The following suggestions are based upon a four-hour party. Do not assume that the party will take care of itself. It’s a good idea to set up some loosely structured timetable of events that will happen during the course of the night. Do not feel that you have to stick to this rigid schedule. You don’t want to risk ruining spontaneous moments or slowing your guests down if they’re busy enjoying themselves. These guidelines are offered only as a suggestion.
Most Sweet 16 parties are planned as pure entertainment for the Guest of Honor, her family, and her friends. However, it becomes more a meaningful event if rituals are incorporated into the party during the evening. If you’re planning to observe any of these rituals, remember to keep one eye on the clock. Your guests may be very affected by a speech or a presentation that lasts for ﬁve minutes, but they may start yawning and talking amongst themselves if too much time is taken.
Standard Sweet 16 Party Elements:
The Sign In Board – Place Cards
Outside of the main entrance to the hall, many people place an easel which displays an enlarged photo of the Sweet 16 girl when she was a little child. This is the image that greets your guests as they arrive. Pens are left at the easel so that guests may sign the poster and send along their good wishes to the Sweet 16 Girl. Be sure that your poster is backed on a ﬁrm board, so that the paper won’t tear when it’s written on, and that the board is anchored to the easel so that it won’t fall off as a result of people touching it. Make sure that your easel is sturdy. Be sure to provide plenty of pens, as pens have a way of “disappearing”. Check with your hall to see if they have easels on hand that you may use for your party.
You will also have a table displaying your guests’ Place Cards. They will collect their card and ﬁnd their table assignment. (Often, the hall will provide these. Alternately, you can order them from a printer or you can craft your own.)
For the ﬁrst hour of the party, your guests will be arriving, greeting one another, and settling in. It’s a good idea to have small appetizers and soft drinks available from the beginning.
The Introduction of the Guest of Honor and her Court (Usually at about the 45-minute mark)
In Latino Quinceanera traditions, the guests who are invited to sit on the dais are referred to as the girl’s court. In America, the Sweet 16 Girl may choose to have a court made up of several of her closest friends. These boys and girls will be presented with her at the beginning of the party. Traditionally, the friends are presented ﬁrst, two at a time. They make an entrance from outside the hall, their names are announced, they pause for a moment to be photographed, and then they take their seats on the dais while the next two friends make their entrance. The second to last entrance should be made by the Sweet 16 Girl’s parents or immediate family. The ﬁnal entrance is made by the Sweet 16 girl herself. This is one of the biggest moments of the party. The Sweet 16 girl, about to become a woman, dressed like a fantasy princess, is presented to her family and guests.
The Sweet 16 girl’s ﬁrst dance with her father or a signiﬁcant man in her life. (Immediately after her introduction)
Ideally, she should be alone on the dance ﬂoor with her father or partner for the ﬁrst verse or two of a song that has special meaning to them. This should be a relatively slow dance. After the ﬁrst verse, the DJ or host can cue the rest of the guests to join the couple on the dance ﬂoor.
After the ﬁrst dance, it’s time to get the party started. Most Sweet 16s will follow this up with nearly an hour of music and dancing. There can be a few breaks for games, but the idea is to get the energy of the party up and running. Ideally, you want your guests to be mingling and dancing. A speech or two can be given if the DJ wants to take a short break, but remember to keep it brief. Be sure to have something for all of your guests to do, no matter what their age.
Dinner is Served (usually at the 2-hour mark)
Now that your guests have had the opportunity to party, dance, meet new people and catch up with old friends, they can settle in for the better part
of the third hour. It’s time to serve the dinner. While your guests are waiting
to be served, this is the perfect moment to offer a toast to your Sweet 16 Girl,
or to have a close family member make a speech.
The Memory Reel (as dinner is ending)
After your guests have been given at least a half hour to 45 minutes to ﬁnish off their main course, it’s the perfect time to present the Memory Reel. These collections of photos and videos have become de riguer at Sweet 16 parties. Most of your guests will be thrilled to have this opportunity to, in effect, browse your photo albums with you. Not only will they see photos and video clips of the Sweet 16 Girl as a baby and a young child, but they will also see her family and friends alongside her, in old homes and familiar surroundings, as they were ten or ﬁfteen years earlier.
Be sure that your screen is arranged so that all of your guests can view it. To make sure that you don’t wind up with technical problems during the presentation, you might want to run a small “tech rehearsal” off to the side before you actually make the presentation.
I know that I’ve already said it a dozen times, but it bears repeating. Keep this reel as brief as possible. I’d suggest keeping the running time under ten minutes. At the ten minute mark, some of your guests may start
tuning out and possibly talking amongst themselves, which will make it harder to hear any sound accompanying the video. Be ruthless when you’re editing the reel and go for as wide a variety of images as you can. Avoid showing ﬁfteen photos that were shot on the same day. Instead, pick out the most important photos from the collection, the photos that tell the story the best.
Rather than hiring someone to compose your reel for you, which could easily run you a small fortune, see if your daughter or one of her friends can ﬁnd her way around a scanner and PowerPoint software or something similar. Most PCs come with standard software and most teenagers are versatile enough to manipulate digital photos and video into a compelling presentation, and this won’t cost you a dime. If you can burn it on to a DVD, perhaps the hall will have a video screen available where you can present it at the party. Check with the DJ too.
The Candle Lighting Ceremony (immediately following)
This is a beautiful ritual in which the girl is presented either with a candelabra holding 16 unlit candles or her cake with 16 unlit candles. Latino families tend to hold this ritual at the beginning of the party, but most hosts hold it toward the end, between the dinner and dessert courses, when your guests may be resting for a few moments after a big meal.
The Sweet 16 Girl will recite a short dedication to each of 16 special guests, and then she will honor each one by inviting them up individually to light a candle. It is lovely to have the Sweet 16 Girl express her gratitude toward others and “give back” to them in this small way.
It’s best to have the Sweet 16 girl write some kind of loose script ahead of time, so she knows who she’s calling them, and has a few words prepared to say to them. A few sentences for each guest is plenty. Remember that if she spends three minutes on each guest, times 16 candles, she’s consumed more than 3/4 of an hour. It will take a minute or so for the guest to approach the cake or candelabra, smile for the camera, and return to their seat.
Dessert Is Served
Finish Off the Last Hour with Dancing – Good-Byes
Some of your guests will begin leaving right after dessert is served. The host and Sweet 16 Girl should be available to say good-bye to them and to thank them for coming.
A Word About Party Favors
My children and I have attended dozens of Sweet 16s. We left each one with some sort of party favor. I understand that these favors are given to the guest as a gesture of love and gratitude, but if a child is on the “Sweet 16 circuit” attending a Sweet 16 once a month or maybe even once a week, the collection of favors will soon take on a life of its own.
I’m sorry to say that almost all of the favors that my children ever brought home wound up either collecting dust behind their beds or thrown in the garbage. It makes me sad to think of all the money and care that the hosts of the party must have spent on those little gifts, only to have them so quickly rejected or passed along.
There was one favor that my daughter received at several Sweet 16s which not only stayed with her but won prominent display in her bedroom. That would be small picture frames. Girls this age absolutely love to collect photos of themselves with their friends, especially when they’re all dressed up for a party. You can get a lot of mileage out of an inexpensive 5 x 7 photo frame, and if the teenager chooses not to keep it, chances are that someone else in the household can put it to good use. I highly recommend these favors.
Donations to charity in lieu of paying money for party favors is also a very good idea because this is a way for the Sweet 16 Girl to assume some mantle of responsibility within the community as a young woman. If you choose to do this, you can have a decorative note stationed at each table, explaining the Sweet 16 Girl’s decision, and announcing the name of the charity to which she’s donated.
Next Chapter 5: How to Throw a Party on a Shoestring Budget
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