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Sweet Sixteen Birthday Ideas

Updated on July 17, 2015

What is Sweet Sixteen all About?

History of Sweet 16 Birthday

Your daughter is turning 16 and you want her birthday to be special. This lens offers some great birthday ideas along with resources for creating the perfect sweet sixteen birthday party.

But where does Sweet Sixteen come from? In every country there is a traditional coming of age celebration for young girls. In Jewish culture, girls reach the spiritual maturity at 12; in China and Latin American cultures, age 15 is the year to celebrate; in Italy, Poland, the Philippines and the UK, girls must wait until they are 18 before considered and adult. In the United States and Canada, that age is 16.

Traditions at Sweet Sixteen

Every country has their traditional ceremony. There are several used here in the United States:

Shoe Ceremony

The birthday girls wear flat shoes to her party. At some appointed hour, her father or grandfather presents her with a pair of high heeled shoes signifying that she is of an age to exchange her childish flats for high heels. A tiara is often presented along with the shoes.

Passing the Heirloom

Upon reaching the age of 16, a girl is considered an adult and responsible enough to carry on family traditions. She is presented with a family heirloom, typically something simple like a piece of jewelry. She is expected to pass this along to her own daughter.


There are two times in a girl's life when she gets to dance with her father: when she turns 16 and when she gets married. At 16, her father is the first to present her to the world as an adult; when she gets married, he is the first to give her away.

Candle Lighting Ceremony

Since the 17th century, the candle lighting ceremony has been a part of coming of age birthday celebrations. Originating in England, the tradition happened when young ladies were first presented to the royal court. In France, debutant balls were given for girls turning 16, marking the transformation from girl to woman.

The candle lighting ceremony still exists today. This ceremony is a chance for the birthday girl to recognize those who have made a difference in her life. There are 16 or 17 candles. The birthday girl lights a candle and makes a short speech about people who have influenced her life. The order follows:

1. First candle for her parents

2. Second candle for her siblings or grand parents

3. Third - Sixth candles are for other members of her family

4. Seventh - Fourteenth candles are for close friends

5. Fifteenth candle is for best friend/friends

6. Sixteenth candle is for a special guy or boyfriend

7. Seventeenth candle is optional and is for luck or inspiration.

The Basics

For a Well Organized Party

Whatever type of party you are throwing; find some basic information here to follow to create a well organized party. Be sure to include your daughter in on the decisions, particularly the theme. What are her favorite things? Colors, books, movies, sports, hobbies. Base the theme on one or more of her favorites. This is her special day.

Set a budget

It is quite easy to spend a lot of money if you don't watch out. For simple items like table wear, games and decorations or party favors, check your local dollar stores or Oriental Trading Co.

You can save money by making some of the items for your party such as invitations, decorations, games and food. A word of caution; if you do decide to make items, allow yourself extra time for preparation.

Let's Get Started Timeline

Three to Four Weeks Before the Party

The timeline will depend on the amount of work you need to do in preparation for your party. The timeline below is for an average party.

If your party involves renting a space, you will need to do that well in advance; up to three or more months in advance.

1. What is the theme of the party? This has to be all about your daughter. What is her favorite color, animal, band, club, book, thing to do. Here are some popular ideas:

  • Spa day
  • Bollywood
  • Pirate
  • Pink (or other color)
  • 60's, 70's or 80's
  • Masquerade
  • Cinderella
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Karaoke
  • Murder Mystery
  • Luau
  • Lawn Sports/Games

2. Once you have decided on your theme, make lists of the following. On the list, mark what you will need to buy and what you need to make:

  • Activities/Games
  • Music
  • Party Favors
  • Decorations
  • Menu
  • Invitations
  • Equipment needed

3. Where is the party going to be? At your house, outside in the yard, at a park or a rented space? If in your house, will it be in one room or more?

4. Create your guest list. How many guests will you invite; all females or co-ed; just friends or family. Make a list of all your guests; keep it handy for marking RSVP's.

5. Make or prepare your invitations and mail. Be sure to include on your invitation:

  1. Location
  2. Time
  3. Theme
  4. RSVP

Two to Three Weeks Before the Party

Time to get to Work!

1. Purchase items you need for the things you plan to make. Be sure to check your local Dollar stores or thrift stores for supplies. You can also check with Oriental Trading Company, Ebay or Amazon.

2. Begin making these items

3. Create your menu. Keep with your theme. Think finger foods for ease. This eliminates the need for eating utensils. Popular foods for teenagers tend to include junk food. Make it healthier by incorporating:

  • Fruit cut up, cut in interesting shapes or put on skewers
  • Veggies cut up and served with a dip such as hummus or peanut butter
  • Make smoothies using yogurt and fruit
  • Nuts, shelled
  • Cheese with fruit on skewers
  • Muffins or bars made with whole grains, fruit and nuts
  • Fill a cupcake paper holder with whole grain cereal or granola
  • Parfait using yogurt, granola, fruit or nuts
  • Whole grain tortilla wraps

Cakes can make a great decoration, but they are messy to serve. Instead consider cupcakes or forgo the cake altogether. You can always have a cake at the family party. Here are some websites with great suggestions:

a. Celebrate with Style

b. Family Food with Hidden Valley

c. EHow



Leaf Chips - A healthy alternative to potato chips

Fav Teen Food

What food does your teen always ask for at a party?

What food does your teen always ask for at a party?

See results


Once again, follow your theme. Here is a list of images to give you some ideas. Some things you can make on your own, others you may want to purchase. This is your daughter's day, is she sweet, bookish, animal lover, sports fan? Remember your budget.

Sweet Sixteen Help From Amazon

Games and Activities

Fun activities can make or break a party

You can have beautiful decorations and great food, but if there is nothing to do, the party can be a drag. Teens will say they just want to "hang out", but offer an activity and watch the party move into high gear.

1. Determine how long the party is going to last.

2. Check out some of the activities listed below.

3. Pick out some short and long activities.

4. Offer some quiet and energetic activities.

5. Have an alternate or two 'just in case'.

Sweet Sixteen Party Games at Punchbowl

Birthday Party Ideas

Sweet 16 Party Game Ideas

Parenting Teens

Queen of Theme Party Games

Board Type Games - Keep them busy and settled down (a bit)

Count Down to the Party

Checking your list...

One week before the party:

Make a shopping list for the menu items. Complete making the items from above

Two Days before the party:

  • Clean the house
  • Store valuables
  • Put up the decorations except for the food table
  • Set up the music sound system
  • Decide on the locations for the various activities
  • Prepare food items that can be frozen

One Day before the party:

  • Make sure all activities are ready
  • Check the decorations

Two - Three Hours before the party:

  • Get yourself ready
  • Decorate the table
  • Prepare food and set out
  • Set out party favors, table decorations, activities
  • Set out directional signs/balloons for guests

Thirty Minutes before the party:

  • Turn on the music
  • Turn on the porch light if needed
  • Try to relax

Who's Your Sweet Sixteen?

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