Quinceañera OverviewThe Quinceanera, or sweet fifteenth birthday is a very special day in the life of many Hispanic girls. Celebrated in Mexico, Puerto Rica, Cuba, Central and Southern America, many families of Hispanic heritage also observe Quinceaneras in the United States. And, while traditions vary according to family tradition, what remains at the heart of every fiesta Quinceanera is the celebration of a girl as she marks an important milestone: passing from childhood to adulthood.
Steeped in religion, for most Quinceaneras -- here and abroad -- their special fifteenth birthday starts with a religious ceremony (the misa de acción de gracias) and then followed by a reception at a family member’s home or special venue. At the mass, the Quinceanera is accompanied by up to fourteen maids (representing her fourteen years) and their fourteen escorts. Then, sat at the foot of the alter for the entire service, the mass gives the Quinceanera the opportunity to give thanks and lay flowers at the feet of the Virgin Mary. After the ceremony, female cousins and sisters distribute special favors to the congregation before the entire party heads off to celebrate with food, music and dancing.
At the heart of every Quinceanera’s fairytale day is a special dress. Traditionally an intricate design in bright or pastel colors, every Quinceanera spends a great deal of time and effort selecting the picture-perfect ball gown for her big day. In fact, with many dresses looking like elaborate wedding gowns themselves, a Quinceanera celebration can often seem like a dress rehearsal for a wedding! Yet, instead of affirming a commitment to a new husband, every Quinceanera reaffirms her devotion and commitment to her family. As for her footwear, most Quinceaneras start the day wearing flat shoes, symbolically switching them out for heels for the first dance with her father.
The original Quinceañera celebrations were important for ancient Aztecs and Mayans, dating back hundreds of years. As the tradition spread, Catholic Latinos added their own religious elements to the celebration. Many Quinceañeras celebrated in the US today begin with a special Thanksgiving Mass, known as La Misa de Acción de Gracias. The birthday girl is often given a seat of honor near the altar, and her Quinceañera court joins her. This court is similar to bridesmaids and groomsmen in a wedding, but the girls are called either “maids” or “dama”, and the boys are called “chamberlains” or “chambelán”. Usually there are seven maids, and seven chamberlains that serve as their escorts. The Quinceañera and her escort form the fifteenth couple.
Quinceañera Dress & Shoes
The traditional Quinceañera dress is either white or a light pastel color, like pale pink. They look similar to wedding gowns, but without the train that trails behind. The party decorations, cake, and favors should all coordinate with the color and design of the Quinceañera dress. The girl will arrive at her Quinceañera wearing flat shoes, which are ceremoniously exchanged for high feels. This symbolizes how she is taking her first steps as a woman, and leaving her children’s clothing and accessories behind. Usually her father assists with this ceremony, which is similar to when a father gives away his daughter at her wedding. Fathers are an important part of Quinceañera celebrations, as they are presenting their daughters as women for the first time.
The last doll is another tradition in the same style; it represents moving forward into adulthood. The Quinceañera is given a beautiful Quinceañera doll, which might be saved as a keepsake. The passing of the last doll is a custom wherein the Quinceañera gives the doll to a younger sister or cousin. This represents how she has put aside childish things, and is now a grown woman. Some Quinceañeras also feature a last piñata, where the young lady can enjoy this kid’s party game one last time. After these activities, there is a father-daughter dance that celebrates her coming of age. Traditional songs for the Quinceañera waltz include La Ultima Muñeca (The Last Doll), De Niña a Mujer (From a Girl to a Woman) and Vals de las Mariposas (Waltz of the Butterflies).
Gifts for the Quinceañera are an integral part of the festivities; each traditional Quinceañera gift has special symbolism for the young lady. Earrings are given to remind her to listen to God, and a bracelet or ring is gifted to represent the never-ending circle of life. Tiaras can represent the thorn of crowns worn by Jesus on the cross, or the mantle of responsibility that adults must shoulder. In some cases, the tiara represents one simple concept: the Quinceañera is queen for the day! Bibles and rosary prayer beads are also gifted as reminders to stay true to her faith despite the temptations that the adult world offers.
Learn more about the Fifteen Questions on the Quinceañera at the USCCB or get more general information about Quinceañera traditions on Wikipedia.
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