Unlike the “Sweet 16” birthday or the debutante ball, the Quinceaneras is celebrated on a niña’s 15th birthday. It is not only a party. It represents much more in Hispanic cultures. From South America through Central America, and into the United States, the Quinceanera’s celebration is recognized as a right of passage for a young girl into womanhood – from niña to Latina.
The history of the celebrated ritual is usually attributed to the Aztecs. Some claim it was brought to the Western hemisphere by Spanish explorers. In any case, the traditions vary only slightly from one country to another. It is a combination of religion, community and family. Comparable to a wedding in other cultures, the huge celebration is planned and executed by various members of the Latina’s family and friends who become her sponsors or padrinos. Everyone takes on a role to insure the success of the celebration, often including food, drink, music and dancing.
The celebration begins with a thanksgiving ceremony or Catholic mass (misa de accion de gracias). The celebrant, the Quinceanera, is accompanied by her full court of 14 damas and 14 chambelans (maids and escorts) and her own personal chambelan for the evening. She carries a bouquet of flowers and wears a gown - usually pink to signify innocence - flat shoes and headwear, either a hat or scarf. During the religious portion of the ceremony, she will offer her flowers at the altar of the Virgin Mary as thanksgiving. Once the thanksgiving ceremony ends, participants go to the Latina’s home or a reception hall for the celebration.
When her guests are all seated, the Quinceanera makes her entrance with her full court. She has exchanged her pink dress for something vibrant, in red, royal blue or burgundy, colors more appropriate for a grown woman. Her father gives a toast and her court has an opportunity to toast with best wishes as well. The Quinceanera receives blessings from her father, acknowledging her new status, and a tiara or crown and a scepter symbolizing her new role and accepted responsibilities as a woman. Her father then exchanges her flat shoes for high heels, also signifying her transition from child to woman. It’s a very emotional and poignant moment for father and daughter alike.
As the party continues, the new Latina will not dance with anyone else until she has danced the traditional waltz with her father. Bolos, gifts, will be assembled for her to open. Traditional gifts include a cross or religious medal, a Bible, and a rosary. These represent her faith in God, herself and in the world. Other traditional gifts may include earrings, reminding the young woman to keep her ears open to the word of God and the world around her. A ring or bracelet symbolizes the never-ending cycle of life and her role as a woman in preserving it, not only through children but also in her support of the family and her community. There will be ceramicas as well, souvenirs of the celebration itself. To share with her guests, there will also be an elaborate cake. Often made of three columns, each column is multi-tiered, with replicas of the 14 damas and 15 chambelans leading up to a replica of the Quinceanera at the top.
The final present to the Quinceanera is a porcelain doll representing the last vestige of childhood. The Latina’s last doll usually wears a dress matching her own. The doll is also covered in ribbons marked with the young woman’s name and the date of her party.
Toward the end, the Quinceanera takes on her first duty as a woman in the community by walking among her guests, passing out the ribbons as remembrance of the celebration, and personally thanking each person in attendance for assisting with and sharing in her passage into womanhood..
• Celebrating a Quinceanera: a Latina’s 15th Birthday Celebration by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith (Author) and Lawrence Midgale (Illustrator)
• Quinceanera!: Essential Guide to Planning The Perfect Sweet Fifteen Celebration by Michael Salcedo (Author)
• www.bellaonline.com, Society & Culture,
• “Quinceaneras”, “Traditions of Quinceaneras”, “Traditional Quinceanera Gifts and Accessories”; articles by Guest Author: Rebecca M. Cuevas De Cassie, retrieved March 27, 2009.
Editor’s note: Laura “Max” Anderson, a DUS contributing writer, is the owner and CEO of The Pen Pusher LLC, providing professional copywriting services and web design at http://thepenpusherllc.com.)