The Sweet Sixteen Tradition

Although many teenage girls celebrate their 18th birthday in the form of a debut party, sweet sixteen remains to be a popular tradition for celebrating the coming of age of a young woman.

Sweet Sixteen celebrations are popular in the US and Canada and they can range from simple to grand and formal parties. In fact, Sweet 16 parties are so popular in the United States that a reality TV show called “My Super Sweet 16” was created by MTV to feature the lives of 16-year-old teenage girls whose parents regard social celebrations a big deal.

Sweet 16 Traditions

Just like the 18th birthday debut party, the Sweet 16 celebration has its traditional ceremonies and elements.

Father-Daughter Dance

One common practice done in Debuts and Sweet Sixteen parties is the Father-Daughter dance. In a Sweet Sixteen celebration, the birthday celebrant, just like a bride on her wedding day, dances with her father. In debut parties, the Father-Daughter dance is commonly done either as the first or last dance of the celebrant in her 18 Roses.



The Candle lighting ceremony is very important in a Sweet Sixteen celebration. Each candle lit up by the birthday celebrant represents a person that’s very dear to her – including her friends, uncles, aunts, siblings, grandparents and parents. The candles are lit up according to the following conventional order:

  1. (The first candle is for the) Parents
  2. Siblings or grandparents
  3. More family members
  4. More family members
  5. More family members
  6. More family members
  7. Selected friends
  8. Selected friends
  9. Selected friends
  10. Selected friends
  11. Selected friends
  12. Selected friends
  13. Selected friends
  14. Selected friends
  15. Best friend
  16. (Last candle) Boyfriend or best guy friend

Many 16th birthday celebrants light up an optional 17th candle, which can stand as their “inspirational candle”.

When all the candles have been lit, everybody can now sing the Happy Birthday song, cut and eat the cake and get the party started.


High heels

High heels symbolize the transition of a girl into womanhood. The 16th birthday celebrant initially wears slippers or flats. As she sits on her chair, a special member of her family like her father, godfather, grandfather or uncle will then give her a new pair of high heel shoes placed on top of a pretty pillow and help her wear them. This custom is often seen in the Spanish coming of age party Quinceañeras but has also become popular in Sweet Sixteen Birthday Parties.


Just like the high heels in the shoe ceremony, the tiara also represents the passage of a young girl to womanhood, but this time it is the mother who hands over the tiara to the birthday girl and places it on her head. The tiara and shoe ceremonies are sometimes combined or done at the same time as the celebrant’s parents approach her with both the shoes and tiara.

Sweet 16 Tiara

Many modern practices have also slipped in the tradition of Sweet Sixteen parties like the creation of montage videos that show pictures of the celebrant from birth to present. But it is still up to the birthday girl as to how she wants to experience her 16th birthday party.

You do not need to have a huge budget to pull off a cool sweet 16 party. You can even keep it elegantly plain but still enjoy the celebration as long as you have your loved ones celebrating your special day with you.

2 thoughts on “The Sweet Sixteen Tradition

  1. This information is really great! I’m going to have my sweet sixteen next year and i have a question actually. I know the 18 roses dance is usually for a debut but since i’m not having a debut, do you think it would be weird to have that for a sweet sixteen? Can you tell me what is invovled in that dance? That would help me so much. Thanks 🙂

  2. Hi Rachel,

    Traditional practices can be tweaked to your preference and nobody can say that adding a “16 roses dance” is wrong. Perhaps you can do those dances with the candle lighting ceremony so it won’t be redundant (having two separate segments for the same set of people). Maybe after lighting each candle, you can dance with that person before lighting the next candle. But of course this can be done with guys only. Maybe you can do another thing with the ladies like 16 treasures, etc.

    The Sweet 16 party tradition is not a common practice in the Philippines but I think it is a great idea to have a coming out party during that time in your life because that’s when you are transitioning from High School to College and we all know that College life is very different. Therefore, it is important to start having the level of maturity that can help you through college.

    Happy Sweet Sixteen and we hope we have helped you in any way! 🙂

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