The quinceanera is a special ceremony when a Latina girl turns 15. Derived from the Spanish words for "fifteen years," the expression "quinceanera" refers to both the celebration and to the young lady herself. Similar to girls from other Latin countries, many Mexican girls celebrate this tradition in Mexico and in the United States. The many and varied traditions of the quinceanera have a rich history.

History

The quinceanera as celebrated today comes from a variety of cultures. The Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs had special customs marking when a young women arrived at the age of marriage. Spanish settlers also had similar traditions as did many other nations. The quinceanera spread among Latinas in the United States starting in the 1930s, and its customs are varied and still evolving. Today's quinceanera typically combines a blessing from the Catholic Church with coming-of-age traditions.

Participants

A young Latina who is turning 15, called the "quinceanera," chooses a court consisting of as many as 14 other young people. She can choose all girls, called "damas," all boys, called "chambelanes" or a combination of both. The attire for the girl and her court is festive and elaborate. The quinceanera wears a ball gown, special jewelry and a headdress. Her damas wear ball gowns and the chambelanes don tuxedos. Other guests at the quinceanera typically include parents, godparents, other family members and friends.

Religious Ceremony

The religious component of the celebration usually includes a procession of the quinceanera and her court into a Catholic Church, followed by a Mass. The girl renews her commitment to her faith in the presence of her parents and godparents and receives gifts, such as a Bible and medal. During the Mass, she receives a special blessing from the priest. However, the girl can choose to have a blessing ceremony without a Mass. In this case, a priest or deacon performs the blessing in a Catholic Church before witnesses, including her parents and godparents. This ceremony can be simple or elaborate.

Party

The quinceanera party is a celebration with family and friends following the religious ceremony. Customs vary, but the event usually features an elaborate meal, music and dancing in a flower-filled reception hall. An ornate birthday cake is tiered and often decorated with statues of the quinceanera and her attendants. The quinceanera arrives wearing flats and changes to high heels as a symbol of her adulthood. Other rituals at the party include a toast to the girl and special dances to introduce her and crown her as a princess. Near the end of the party, she presents each guest with a souvenir ribbon from a special doll.

Preparation

Preparation for a quinceanera often starts years before the special day. Parents, godparents and grandparents help work out the details, including attire, decorations and food. Although modest celebrations are possible, family members often save for years to make the girl's dreams a reality, sometimes spending $20,000 or more. However, the party is just one aspect of the quinceanera. Church classes and family instruction prepare the girl for her duties as an adult. She also grows in maturity through the preparations and by performing her role on the special day.