In Spanish-speaking countries, one of the most important celebrations is called a quinceñera, from the word quince, which means “fifteen” and años, which means “years.” It is a rite of passage celebration for young girls on their fifteenth birthdays. The tradition dates all the way back to the time of the Azetcs, who had celebrations to prepare young women for the responsibilities and duties they would face in adulthood, while also instructing the girls on how to maintain the Aztec traditions and culture. In colonial times, people held similar formal celebrations for girls of an age to be married. At a certain age, girls were separated from other children and taught about their future and what roles they would play in the family and community. Local people would thank God for blessing a future wife and mother, and the young woman made a promise to serve her community. A church service soon became an integral part of the entire event.
The purpose of a quinceñera is to mark a girl’s maturation into womanhood as families present her to the community. Parents as well as padrinos, or godparents, are also honored and play important roles in the ceremony. Today girls wear a beautiful, elaborate white or softly colored gown, similar to a wedding gown, which is accented by jewelry that is often given to her by the godparents.
The celebration begins with a misa de acción de gracias, a religious mass where people give thanks to God for the young girl completing her childhood while also acknowledging her never life heading into adulthood. The girl, seated at the front of the church, is surrounded by her court, which usually consists of relatives, siblings, or close family friends. They make up the fourteen damas, or maids of honor, and fourteen chambelanes, or male escorts. The groups represent the years the girl has completed in her life thus far. In some countries, the teen will pass a doll on to a younger sibling to indicate that she is leaving her childhood behind. In addition, most girls will wear flat shoes, and then during the ceremonies, her father will place high heels on her feet to indicate she has become a young woman.
After the mass, it’s time to party! Most quinceñeras are lavish celebrations with lots of balloons and decorations and a cake as ornate as the girl’s dress. The girl will receive presents and monetary gifts to help her in the years to come. At the party, there is often a band that plays all types of music for people to dance to. The girl will first dance a waltz with her father or one of her escorts. In addition, a dinner is served and there is a toast to the girl. The parents also present words of wisdom to their daughter.
Quinceñeras are an integral part of many Hispanic cultures. Any Hispanic family raising daughters knows the day is inevitable that their little girls will grow up to be young women. A quinceañera helps make that milestone a memorable one.