The Traditions of a Quinceañera
One of the most important celebrations for a fifteen-year-old girl in the Latin American culture is the tradition of the quinceañera. To mark her passage into womanhood, a ceremony is held in her honor, which presents the young woman to the community while giving thanks to God for his blessings.
The celebration is similar to a sweet sixteen party that is common here in the United States. Although, because of its religious significance, the quinceañera is actually a little more similar to the bat mitzvah, which is part of the Jewish tradition.
In previous times, the quinceañera signaled that the young woman was of marriageable age and status, ready to take on her share of responsibilities, as an active, adult member of her community. Today in the United States however, young women are not as encouraged to get married and start a family so young. Rather, it is quite common for many young women to want to further their education first, get a great paying job, and then settle down and start a family.
The quinceañera is a celebration of womanhood, family, and community. Not only is the young woman honored for her maturity, but so are her parents and other family members, including her padrinos (godparents). The godparents, mother and father play important roles throughout the ceremony.
Several traditions are followed throughout the quinceañera celebration which include:
Religious celebration – At a Catholic church, the young woman’s parents and godparents walk her down the aisle to present her to the center of the altar for mass, beginning with a Misa de acción de gracias (giving thanks for a completed childhood). The godparents and parents then present the festejada (birthday girl) with special gifts. Once the mass is complete, to make a devotion to the Virgin Mary, the young woman leaves a bouquet of flowers on the church’s statue where she attended her mass.
During the ceremony, the young woman is also accompanied by her court of honor, comprised of fourteen damas (girls) and fourteen chambelans (boys). The number fourteen represents the number of years she has lived as a child and is about to leave behind.
The dance – The reception begins with the father/daughter dance. The festejada (birthday girl) dances the waltz with her father or primary escort. A formal dinner is usually featured, where several toasts are made while guests share stories and fond memories they have shared with the young woman throughout her youth. Traditionally, family and neighbors in the community would help prepare a home-cooked meal. However, nowadays, it’s much more common to hire a caterer to provide the meal, allowing the party-goers to worry about one less thing.
Desserts – Customary desserts include an almond meringue cake, tres leches, and cookies known as bizcochitos. Although, the desserts can vary depending on the woman’s specific cultural background.
The gown – Equivalent to a wedding dress with layers of tulle and netting, the elegant gown is usually light pink or white and is modestly designed.
The changing of shoes – As a symbol of growth and responsibility, the parents will take off the young woman’s flat shoes and replace them with a set of heels. The heels also represent the girl stepping into society to become an adult woman.
Candle lighting – The candle lighting ceremony is held so that the birthday girl can honor those who have been especially influential in her life. Fifteen people are selected by her to come up and receive a candle, while she gives a speech she has prepared, explaining how each of them has assisted her in reaching her maturity.
The crowning – The crowning of the quinceañera is usually done by her mother, where her headpiece is replaced by a crown or tiara. A scepter may also be presented at the same time.
Last doll – Typically porcelain, the doll is often dressed like the quinceañera and signifies her passage into adulthood.
While a quinceañera is known to be an extravagant occasion, there is a lot of deep rooted symbolism behind the celebration. The event incorporates family, friends, and neighbors, as many of them are involved in the process from beginning to end.
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