Post by Momma Donna
It didn’t take Gwen long to realize she would turn 15 while we were in Brazil, and from early on, she was declaring her desire for a quinceanheira (keen-say-ahn-yera) – a formal coming out party, akin to the sweet sixteen party some still celebrate in the United States, just a year earlier. A rite of passage of sorts for those who can afford it, it signals to society: this gal is ready to git hitched! (Ha! Hardly!)
None of us have ever been to a quinceanheira in the states, let alone Brazil, but I was familiar with the tradition from some films, stories I have heard of others’ parties, and I also searched the Internet and spoke to as many Brazilians as I could find who had been to one or had one of their own. I started this process back in 2010 and learned one thing fairly quickly: this was going to be an expensive affair, even though almost everything one needs for this sort of soiree can be rented – including a cake! Even so, a formal dress rental cost more than buying a new dress in the States would have cost, so we decided instead to look for a dress for Gwen while we were in Bolivia.
We found one, but it was not a long, formal, rather a semi-formal dress. And that one divergence from tradition led to another and another until we finally just gave up all-together on trying to throw a traditional quinceanheira. And if we couldn’t do it according to everyone’s expectations, then we might as well do something no one was expecting, right? Thus emerged the idea to have a Polynesian night theme party. We incorporated some elements of the tradition and did some things like we might have in the U.S., and then other things were a hybrid style, so there was something different for everyone there.
If trying to plan a party in a foreign language doesn’t seem hard enough, try doing it with the bus as your mode of transport! Without exaggeration, I must have walked 20 miles in preparation for this party. Thank goodness downtown Joaçaba is not that big, but not knowing where I could find some things, and wanting to check prices between stores on other things had me going back and forth and around in circles for about two weeks. I never in my life missed Hobby Lobby and Walmart more than in the last two weeks.
Unfortunately, most of what I am about to describe does not have a photographic counterpart to it. About a month ago, Gwen’s camera broke. Electronics are terribly expensive here, so we ordered her a new one for her birthday from Best Buy. My friend Elaine volunteered to pick it up and ship it to us FEDEX. But it didn’t get here on time (or yet). So we had only our video camera to take pics with and as it doesn’t have a flash and the lights were dim… well, our pics suck. We asked to borrow a camera, but that was forgotten in a rush to get to the party. Some video was OK though, and I’ve made a little compilation – about three minutes worth of party highlights.
After months of planning, weeks of acquiring and crafting and days of cooking, I still grossly underestimated the time it would take to pull it all together once we got to the pavilion. But God provided us with two angels – people we hardly even know, who happened to be in town and just wanted to help. With their help, as well as contributions of transportation and work from many of our Brazilian church family, the last of the shrimp were diving into cocktail sauce just as the first guests arrived.
We held the party at a samba school called Aliança. It was outdoors, lots of greenery. At one end of the pavilion was Gwen’s throne and a some decorative panels we hung to create a stage area. Also, the obligatory (for a Brazilian party) balloon sculptures in the form of palm trees were to the sides of the throne. Behind the throne, we ran a slideshow of alternating great pics of Gwen and pics of tropical flowers with Bible verses that are typical for the quinceaheira celebration. We made paper bag lanterns, about 25, and placed them all around, and we lined the entrance with tiki torches. We decorated the tables with orchids, melons carved as tikis, candles and greenery on an orange bamboo mat. The food tables were skirted in turquoise blue, representing water, and in the center of the food table, we created a little island with three miniature palm trees, bottoms of which were covered in sand, and there was even a ship and airplane wrecked on this little island.
We served tropical chicken salad hour’dourves (made with pineapple, grapes and cream cheese), sushi (made by a local restaurant), shrimp cocktail, fruit kabobs with chocolate sauce, brownies and the typical Brazilian party sweet called brigadeiros (like small truffles). With the exception of the Coke (the only drink we served) and brigadeiro, all the foods were new to most of the guests. Of course, the fruit was familiar, but the form was new, as was the application of chocolate sauce. Some tried sushi for the first time and John was able to con a couple of unsuspecting young men into taking large bites of wasabi. The cake was coconut cream. Basically, I had to walk folks along, explaining the food to them, but almost everything was eaten, though not everyone was a fan of sushi (no surprise).
After about an hour of eating and mingling, the Schillingers walked up the stairs through the woods and our Pastor Eli welcomed everyone. Then Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine” came on and Mom and Chaise walked in, and then Gwen, escorted by John—and the crowd applauded. We all sat down and Eli gave a brief message, asking the 40 some young people (and the 15 or more adults) in attendance to consider the influences on their lives. Then I presented Gwen with a Bible (Portuguese/English) and a crown. More applause. And John made some remarks – unplanned – that I translated into Spanish and Eli into Portuguese. This was kind of awkward, not just because it took about a minute to say 10 words, but also because during his speech, Chaise fell off a chair. He was a big boy and didn’t cry, but it really broke up the sentimental mood. More awkwardness ensued as we tried to cue “Waltz of the Flowers.” Our music was coming from a DVD player, so there was no skipping the rest of “I Can Only Imagine.” So yea, you can only imagine!
John and Gwen had taken a waltz lesson the day before, courtesy of Gwen’s lovely ballet teacher Andresa at Bella Danza. And they did quite well. After about two minutes of this five-minute waltz song, I sent Chaise to cut in and dance with Sister. It was just about to work until the crowd broke out again into applause. All of this clapping seemed to happen on cue, but I have no idea who was initiating it! This time, however, it scared Chaise and he decided against waltzing. So, more awkwardness while we waited for “Waltz of the Flowers” to yield to “Thriller.”
From that point on, it was a teen-age affair. We bussed the tables and then I just wanted to sit down and relax for a bit, but my greatest help of the evening wanted to start deconstructing the tables and more. I decided this must be a Brazilian thing. I kept saying, “Let’s wait till the party is over,” but things kept moving. Indeed my biggest disappointment was not getting to enjoy the ambiance it took me weeks to create!
Honestly, I don’t know all the ways our party was different than the typical quinceanheira, because, as I have stated, I’ve never been to one! The most important thing was that Gwen had a great time, as did all the guests. It was a once-in-a-life-time experience not only for her but for everyone who attended.