I don’t think anybody at home in Canada really makes a big deal out of Sweet 16 parties anymore. But most girls in Cuba dream about their 15th birthday from the time they can talk. And a lot of families starting saving money for the occasion from the moment their daughters are born. A girl’s 15th birthday represents the transition from girl to young woman. I was shocked to learn a few years ago that the average age modern Cuban girls lose their virginity is 13 (and boys later than that), but nevertheless the tradition for Cubans is still to officially celebrate for the 15th birthday.
Nowadays not everyone can afford a dream party, but every Cuban girl will have at least some professional pictures taken in rented gowns and various other outfits which she will cherish and display for the rest of her life. After 15, it’s all downhill in terms of wrinkles, gravity and the battle of the bulge, so you might as well preserve that moment in your history while there’s still time.
What with challenging economic times in Cuba, the parties aren’t usually as lavish as they might have once been, but you still sometimes hear of the rare party where the parents go all out. We attended one such party this past weekend. The father of the girl of honor owns an antique convertible car which is used precisely for this business of transporting brides and quinceañeras through the streets of Havana, parading them around for everyone to see and cheer on their special day. Her uncle has a similar business, and between the two of them over the years they have made a lot of other contacts in the Cuban party business world, and many of those friends donated their services to provide one young Cuban girl with a fantasy 15th birthday.
We all met at her house late Saturday afternoon. My husband was to be part of the antique Harley Davidson motorcycle escort. The first car was driven by the girl´s father, accompanied by his wife and daughter perched on the trunk of the convertible with her pink bejeweled gown flowing all around her. She looked just like the doll that many buy to perch on the 15th birthday cakes. Pink satin gloves, tiara and all.
She had her own personal hair and makeup artists for the occasion, as did her 4 maidens. The wives and close family members followed behind in a caravan of pristine antique American cars. And for all the other friends and neighbors lucky enough to be granted an invitation, there was a double-long bus to take them all to the party (since otherwise transportation or the lack thereof could easily foil their plans to celebrate in the city). The entourage was a spectacle in itself, with everyone blowing their special air horns/whistles and sirens along the way. Neighbors lined the streets to see her off. Halfway to the party venue, we met up with another motorcycle friend who has a 1945 Harley trike just recently done over, and the quinceañera was transferred from the back of the convertible to the backseat of the trike for the rest of the journey.
Everyone was welcomed at the door with sangria, then directed to their designated tables. At each table, there was a bottle of champagne for the toast, and a bottle of rum and soda was also delivered to all tables. The place was decorated with pink balloons, pink ribbons on the white linen chair covers, pink roses on the tables, and everyone got to take home a different framed photograph of the girl as a keepsake. There was a wonderful emcee who took us through her childhood, her likes, her plans for the future. All of this carefully choreographed to her favorite music and accompanied by a video presentation, including all the professional photos taken in various places around Havana prior to the party. Her escorts of 4 young men included one professional dancer, and the group of young people of had been practicing their dances three times a week for the last month under the direction of a professional choreographer. Professional photographers and videographers were there to capture every moment of the memorable occasion.
A dinner of typical Cuban party fare was served (cold pasta salad, pastries, ham & cheese sandwiches and the like) and one of our friends swore she was not leaving the party until the elaborate cake was cut and she got to try it.
The 15-year old maiden of honor often accompanies her father, uncle and cousin on motorcycle events with us and I’ve always found her to be very mature, respectful and very much the young lady that her doting parents have raised her to be. She has several male admirers that she graciously keeps at bay. It’s admirable when a young girl of this age can truly enjoy the company of her parents and their friends. Ever the practical people, my husband and & I gifted her with a little spending money for her birthday and she tried to return it to us. I told her father before we left the party that he’d better hope his daughter doesn’t get married young or she might bankrupt him, judging by the over-the-top nature of her 15th birthday party. But I have a feeling it wouldn’t really matter to her doting Dad, who was as proud as could be to be able to cater to his daughter and make her dream come true. Cuban daughters hold a special place in their fathers’ hearts.