Coming of Age: Bat Mitzvahs and Quinceañeras… A 13th and 15th Birthday

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The Bat Mitzvah. The coming of age ceremony in Judaism, when a girl turns thirteen and becomes an adult in the eyes of Judaism. One is responsible for understanding the meaning of the Torah and taking on the role of a Jewish woman. The counterpart, a Bar Mitzvah, a male turns thirteen and becomes an adult in the Jewish religion. Originally, there were only Bar Mitzvahs and in many Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox communities, Bat Mitzvahs do not play a role in the religion. A newer trend, the B’nai Mitzvot, a ceremony with two siblings of a similar age who have a ceremony together. I write about  the Bat Mitzvah because I am more familiar with the female experience.

It is a milestone day, usually occurring on the date and month of the Hebrew and or American calendar which corresponds to a girl’s birthday. Much preparation has gone into the day: years of Hebrew school, reading the Torah, singing, writing a meaningful speech and preparing for the celebration, afterwards. Bat Mitzvah, in Hebrew, means a female, bat, who does a good deed, a mitzvah. The Torah portion of the day is a significant piece of a revelation or philosophy about life according to the Jewish history, sometimes it falls out on a holiday, A female feels special on this day, she wears a dress  which fits the ceremony and party mood. The party can be a day event or a more glamorous dinner and evening party at a venue. Some are held in Israel. Today, many girls are seen wearing a sequin top with a long skirt and designer sneakers, easier for dancing. The party often has a theme such as; a color, music, the beach, sport, hobby or a symbolic connection to the person. The rooms are decorated with balloons, flowers, the girl’s name on screen, printed on pillows, in lights or party favors. A photographer or videographer captures the moment. There are picture montages from their childhood and entertainers. Each theme is unique and has relevance to the individual, a way to express and celebrate their birthday and entrance. My Bat Mitzvah theme; rainbows. I had white balloons which represent the clouds, rainbow arches near the tables and pots of gold, in wrapping paper. My invitation was blue, like the sky, with rainbow colored ribbons, sealed with a silver star. The symbolic meaning; to follow your dreams and see the multitude of colors in life. I wore a multi white and cream lace tier top and skirt which had a delicate style. My younger sister played the song a piano;”Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Many parties have a candle lighting ceremony where 12 or 13 people in the girl’s life, light a candle. The cake, music, toasts or tributes, play a role. Many go over the top with cartoonists, video games, face painters and DJ’s. People do the Hora dance and a girl is lifted up on top of a chair, as a means of celebration and elevation. One can watch Bat Mitzvah’s on YouTube and Vimeo, in order to get a better idea of what a day is like.

A Bat Mitzvah is similar to a Quiñceanera, a fifteenth birthday party or similar to a girl’s coming of age. The ceremony, originated with the Aztecs in Mexico and was preparation for marriage and motherhood. The Spanish came to Mexico and brought Catholicism. Other Latino/Meso- American cultures have quiñces as well. The girl has a religious ceremony at a Catholic church. There is a party or fiesta where a girl has a court of 7 damas ( ladies) and 7 chambelanes (male escorts for each dama), totaling 14 and the Quinceañera, makes the 15th. The father/daughter dance is a key feature and many have their last doll (muneca) which is dressed up and resembles the party girl. There is a shoe changing ritual where the father takes off her flat shoes, replacing them with high heels. The mother applies lipstick on her daughter to make her appear as a lady. She is now considered a woman and has established her heritage as an adult. The gown is elaborate and usually comes in bright colors or traditional white, similar to a debutante gown. It is made of ruffles with a tulle or organza bodice and has a tighter top in a matching shade with sparkles or floral appliqués. Gowns look like a Cinderella dress or similar Disney princess outfits, some girls wear a tiara. Compare a Quinceañera to a Bat Mitzvah because both cultures have similar traditions and parties which celebrate their cultural identity and role as a maturing female.. A coming of age party. So, Mazel Tov (Congratulations) or Felicitaciones.