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Special Events

The real world of Sweet 16s

Big bashes with bratty girls begging for Beemers--MTV's television show "My Super Sweet 16" seems to suggest that teenage girls everywhere are being treated to over-the-top parties by their indulgent parents. But the reality behind this "reality" show is quite different. Instead, event planners polled at random by Special Events Magazine say that Sweet 16 parties make up a mere 1 percent of their business.

Although planners do have clients for Sweet 16s, the true big bashes for the young set, event planners say, are bar and bat mitzvahs. "Bar and bat mitzvahs are the real children's parties that we're having," says Stacy Zeigler, director of sales for Atlanta-based Bold American Catering. Ira Mitchell-Steiman, creative director of Pembroke Park, Fla.-based ME Productions, agrees. "It's a known fact that in a Jewish family, there's going to be a bar mitzvah when a young man reaches 13," he says. "And there will be a party--they can easily exceed $50,000 in decor alone."

In fact, he notes that many event planners stay in touch with local synagogues since bar and bat mitzvahs are such established celebrations. Mitchell-Steiman has even encountered a "faux mitzvah" that a mother from a Christian background threw for her 13-year-old. "The young girl had been to all the bar and bat mitzvahs of everyone else in her class, so her parents threw her a very expensive birthday party, done in the same extravagant style of a floral bat mitzvah," he says. "She had huge towering centerpieces at $500 apiece, then she had extravagant linens and wonderful entertainment, but it was not for 16--it was for 13."

Bar and bat mitzvahs--as well as the quinceanera, which some planners do a decent business in--have cultural ties that keep these celebrations going strong. In addition, according to Mitchell-Steiman, if parents throw an elaborate religious coming-of-age party for a young teenager, they are less likely to turn around and throw another big party when the child reaches 16. Another piece of competition for the Sweet 16 party: "Parents here are making deals with their 16-year-old girls to buy them cars when they're 17 instead of giving them huge Sweet 16 parties," he says.

For the full story, see the December issue of Special Events Magazine.

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