If you have been wondering, ‘What are quinceaneras all about?’ it’s time to learn a little more. The word ‘quinceanera’ literally means ‘fifteen year old girl’ in Spanish. It is also the name given to a special coming of age ceremony that is celebrated throughout South America. When a girl turns fifteen, she has this celebration to show that she is almost a woman. Traditionally, fifteen was the age at which a female was considered fit for marriage, so the custom is an old one. However, these days, it is more about showing pride in her transition from childhood to another new and exciting chapter.
It is thought that the quinceanera first originated with the colonising Spanish, who brought many of their customs and traditions over with them when they invaded. At first, this type of celebration was intended only for the upper echelons of society; the very wealthy and those with a high status. Today, it is a staple of Hispanic life and as many as 440,000 teenagers have these parties every year.
The quinceanera might not be a practical tradition any more, but it remains an important one, because it connects Hispanic immigrants in the USA with their ethnic identity. For the girls, it is a chance to face their bright futures with a bang – the parties involve lots of music, food, dancing, and other types of merriment.
While the quinceanera tradition is very popular and widespread now, it hasn’t always had the easiest time.
The Catholic Church has long had a fractious relationship with the custom, because it doesn’t entirely agree with throwing such lavish and decadent parties. It believes that many communities have forgotten about the spiritual purpose of the quinceanera and that too much money is spent on the events.
It is not difficult to see why the Church would have an issue, particularly when you see quinceaneras costing upwards of $25,000. It has tried to respond by implementing a number of new measures, such as putting restrictions on the number of parties and, in some cases, combining multiple celebrations to further limit the amount. These measures have not been all that effective though and the luxurious events continue.
It is important to point out that the quinceanera has become an entire industry. It brings up anything up to $400,000 every year in just America. This is because money has to be spent on food, beverages, gifts, decorations, venues, and more. The celebrations are so costly that charities and businesses in New Mexico have actually started sponsoring girls who come from less privileged backgrounds. This allows them to experience a quinceanera, even if their parents don’t have enough money to throw them one.
In this way, it is clear to see that the tradition has changed. While it used to be reserved for the wealthiest girls in society, it is now considered to be such an essential rite of passage that even those with lower means are encouraged to take part. There are all kinds of great features that make a quinceanera stand out. Some of the most important are described below. The next section will answer the question ‘What are quinceaneras all about?’
The quinceanera ceremony usually starts as a mass service at the Church. This is a chance for the family and the girl in question to express their gratitude and thanks. The girl, on her fifteenth birthday, is made the centre of attention. She walks, as part of a special ritual, down the middle of the aisle as if she were getting ready to marry. She is followed by a fourteen other young ladies and fourteen young male escorts (one for each lady).
Her parents and grandparents are also present. The girl has been given a chance to prepare her own readings or she may have asked somebody close to her to give a reading instead. Following this, there is the gospel and homily, and then the girl repeats the promises that were made at her baptism. She commits herself to the Virgin Mary and, after doing this, she is lavished with gifts and presents.
The ceremony ends with the birthday girl making a personal devotion to the Virgin Mary. This traditionally involves the placing of flowers in a special location at the church. The priest gives the quinceanera his blessing and the real celebrations begin. The church service is very exciting and holds great significance, but the party starts after it has finished. In some cases, though most families are traditional, the girl has a quinceanera that is not religious in this way.
The reason why there are fourteen other girls and fourteen boys involved in the precision is simple. These couples represent every year of life up until this special one – the one that marks the transition into womanhood. The girls are referred to as ‘damas’ and the boys are called ‘chambelanes.’ Some families prefer to limit the celebration to girls only and, therefore, pick only damas to join the procession.
The Paternal Dance
Traditionally, the birthday girl saves her first quinceanera dance for her father. He picks the song and it has a special importance to the two of them. This is a really important part of the process and it is charged with significance. From a symbolic perspective, this is the first public dance for the new lady and it is a chance for her father to formally ‘give her’ to adulthood. This is why custom says that he should then invite her male escort to dance with her for the second song. He is, essentially, giving the union his blessing.
The Special Dress
The dress is hugely important for girls at their quinceaneras and it chosen in much the same way as a bride would choose her wedding gown. Most young ladies go for lots of sparkles, tulle, silk, and ruffles. The aim is to be bright, extremely feminine, and unique. The design of the dress will depend on how strict the family is being. There are some families that are very traditional and don’t want their daughters to wear colours that are too bright or outfits that show off shoulders and ankles. On the other hand, there are others who feel like the dress should match the modern vibe of the event.