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  • Italians Celebrate Their Sweet 18

    Find out what kind of bash young Italian men and women host when they turn 18 years old and technically become adults
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Italian 18th Birthday
    Italians celebrate their eighteenth birthday with verve. Both young men and women throw parties on par with the traditional American sweet 16 when they turn 18 years old, which is the age of adulthood.

    Frankly, most Italians who go to college don't finish the degree until they are in their 30s. You've probably read a million stories about how many of them never move out of their parent's houses – at least in southern Italy. But 18 traditionally is associated with the age of adulthood, and therefore it requires a serious party.

    The birthday boy or girl invites friends and family. Usually, the party is at a nightclub with catering, restaurant, or event facility. Sometimes, they will have the party at home. There's almost always dancing. The latest versions of these parties sometimes has a theme. They've been greatly influenced by social media images of superb party planning. At the very least, the guest of honor chooses a color scheme.

    In the case of my niece, who turned 18 over the summer, the party was drenched in red and white. She wore a custom-made red dress. A photographer documented the evening. She is on a competitive, winning dance team, and her friends performed a choreographed dance just for her – and we all got to watch.

    Of course, there has to be food, really good food. This is Italy, after all. Dinner is usually light, but this is a party, so people expect a bit more abundance. At my niece's party a buffet was set up on the bar. There, you found appetizers, such as mini sandwiches and various little bites. Waiters came around with small plates of different kinds of pasta. In addition, they served cocktails and champagne. Her cake was tiered and looked like an American wedding cake.

    Friends and family shared a beautiful video montage that carried the audience through my niece's life – from being born to being at her 18th birthday party. Everyone got down to music – old and new. Much like you'd expect at an American party, YMCA and the chicken dance made the cut.

    One of the interesting aspects of an Italian party is that the invitation was for 10 p.m. and that was considered early. It didn't matter that my son, who was 6 at the time, and her other cousins, who were 9 and 6, were invited, as were elderly aunts and uncles. In fact, many of her friends complained that the time was too early. I, the American, was shocked at the schedule of events. We got home by 2:30 in the morning, and we left early.

    Italian 18th Birthday
    This should not have surprised me. After all, dinner is between 8 or 9 p.m. every night whenever I'm in Italy. When my husband and I were dating and, I was visiting him in the Boot, we would often finish dinners out with friends at around 3 a.m. And an 18th birthday party is essentially a dance party for teenagers, which seems more appropriate in the wee hours of the morning. Wouldn't you agree?

    If you're interested in incorporating the Italian vibe into your next milestone birthday bash, you can do the following:

    • Include friends and family. Many Sweet 16 parties are all about the guest of honor's pals, but in Italy cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are a big part of the celebration, too. Siblings make the video montage or photo collage and everyone gets on the dance floor, even the nonni in many cases. Young relatives are also there. My son and my niece's other elementary school-aged cousins were all invited and participated.
    • Keep it simple. Yes, these 18th birthday parties are a big deal in the way American sweet 16s are. But the decorations are often simple. A few balloons or flowers and a statement making No. 18 to serve as a photo backdrop is all you need. Even though, the food is the star of every show in Italy, they still keep the dishes simple. My niece's party was a heavy serving of antipasto with a few small plates of heartier food.
    • Have a showstopper cake. Like most parties today, these are designed for Instagram. A pretty cake helps make the pictures stand out. Because these are Italians, the cakes are not only edible but also delicious. Keep in mind that going overboard on the decoration of the cake can influence the taste of it.
    Even if you just grab your closest family and friends and sit around a table with a cup of espresso and a cannoli, you should always celebrate your birthday. Never take these celebrations for granted because life – and the people who share the beautiful journey with us – are the greatest gifts we get.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 10/22/18


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