History and Traditions from Hispanic American Families
Every Latina girl dreams of celebrating her 15th birthday, or quinceañera, with a lavish party, wearing a stunning princess dress and dancing with her loving family and friends.
A traditional quinceañera party can take years of preparation and planning to pull off, and it may seem easy for all the details and material trappings to overwhelm you.
But what is quinceañera about, really? At its heart, quinceañera is not about the dress, the venue, or the choreographed dances. It’s about celebrating a girl’s transition into womanhood.
This is why families from all walks of life in nearly every country in Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina, love to celebrate the quinceañera.
Whether the party takes place in an opulent downtown ballroom or in a simple grassy field, whether the dress is store bought or homemade, whether the guests share an elaborate cake or a simple one, the special meaning of the celebration is the same: to recognize that a young girl has become a woman.
Parts of a Quinceañera Celebration
Traditionally the quinceañera consists of two parts: a thanksgiving mass and a reception and party afterwards.
The mass serves to strengthen the girl’s faith and remind her that as she enters womanhood, God and the church should be a source of strength in times of need.
In keeping with quinceañera traditions, the girl will typically receive some sort of religious memento on her special day, such as a cross, a medal, a rosary, or a Bible.
The party or reception serves as the birthday girl’s first “official” event as an adult. The quinceañera’s father changes her shoes from flats to heels, symbolizing that she is now a woman.
She will dance first with her father, and then with her escort and with the other young couples who form her “honor court”.
Traditionally, the dancing begins with waltzes and choreographed numbers and later includes pop music or whatever the quinceañera chooses.
Nowadays, the question “what is quinceañera” can be answered in many ways, as girls tend to want to break with quinceañera history and put their own unique spin on the event. For example, some girls may forgo the mass. Others may want a red or blue dress, rather than the traditional pink dress.
In the United States, some girls even opt to celebrate at age 16 instead of 15, so that they can have a sweet sixteen party.
What remains constant in all versions of the quinceañera is the focus on family that forms the core of Hispanic culture. Aunts, uncles, parents, godparents, and other relatives share the responsibility of paying for the quinceañera, and young men gallantly practice ballroom dancing to please their little sisters and cousins. The whole family comes together in this beautiful coming of age celebration.