What is a quinceañera and how is it celebrated?
For a Latina girl about to turn 15, there’s life before the quinceañera and there’s life after the quinceañera. This major celebration represents her transition into womanhood, chaperoned by her family and witnessed by the community. The word itself is derived from quince (“fifteen”) and anos (“years)” in Spanish. It is a once-in-a-lifetime birthday event – part rite of passage and part festival – that blends tradition and individuality, spiritual symbolism and contemporary culture. It is, in short, a heady day in a girl’s life.
The quinceañera announces to the world the emergence of a young woman connected to the roots of her family and cultural values, yet ready to tackle life on her own terms. The event is divided into two parts: the mass, and the fiesta. Though the quinceañera is comparable to Sweet 16 celebrations and debutante balls, the church component of the ceremony pays due respect to the girl’s spiritual heritage.
Planning for the whole event requires the same attention to detail and the same passion as organizing a wedding. The girl, honored as a princess for a day, is the crowning center of the reception at our quinceañera banquet halls; a star around which all the other participants orbit. Her choice of dress – usually a ball gown – sets the tone. Not only is it a chance to let her inner and outer beauty shine, but our quinceañera banquet halls can design a color scheme of flowers, table settings, decorations and balloons to complement her choice. The girl also gets to pick her ‘Court of Honor’ and ensure its seven males (called chambelanes) and seven females (damas) are accessorized to match her style. Our banquet halls in Los Angeles for quinceañeras are expert at coordinating with the birthday girl and her family to bring her vision to life.
A traditional quinceañera begins with a thanksgiving mass (Misa de Accion de Gracias). The ‘Quinceañera’ (the girl turning 15) will often be led into the church by her parents or guardians. Following behind are her godparents (padrinos), the chambelanes and the court. (Sometimes the order is reversed with the Quinceañera, escorted by her parents, arriving at the altar last while all guests remain standing). The chambelan de honor is a young man, usually an older brother, cousin or friend, who is the Quinceañera’s date for the day – and her first male companion as a newly recognized young woman. A priest welcomes the Quinceañera at the altar, where she takes a designated seat to receive biblical readings directed specifically to her.
Typically in a Catholic service, she receives Holy Communion and gives a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary. She also receives special gifts blessed by the priest. These can include a prayer book or bible, a rosary, a cross or medal, and a scepter (symbolizing responsibility in the world). The crowning rite is the presentation of a tiara by the Quinceañera’s parents or padrinos.
The actual order of events may vary slightly, but these are the symbolic elements of the mass, signifying the Quinceanera’s commitment to her family and God. She will often deliver a speech thanking the various attendees, including sponsors who may have contributed financially to make the day of honor a reality.
Much like the reception after couples exchange vows at a wedding ceremony, the party with dinner and dancing that follows is more informal but still steeped in symbolic traditions – which, again, can vary depending on their regional origins in Latin America. Traditional rituals at our banquet halls in Glendale, CA can include the presentation of la última muñeca, the birthday girl’s “last doll” before womanhood, which she can then pass on a younger relative. Before the waltz, the Quinceañera and her father may also join each other at the center of the dance floor, where he will change her shoes from flats to heels on a decorated chair. It is a particularly poignant moment, as is the Quinceañera’s first dance with her father. Finally, a multi-tiered birthday cake is cut and guests sing Las Mañanitas to mark the birthday girl’s passage into womanhood as the climax to the event at our banquet halls in Los Angeles for quinceañeras.
Although the quinceañera has many traditional elements, it is not static. Many families are opting to blend their Hispanic and American heritages by adapting the ceremony to a Sweet 16 party, complete with religious ceremony and reception at our banquet halls in Glendale, CA. There are even similar coming-of-age celebrations emerging for boys. These changes reflect how tradition can adapt to cross-cultural influences. Regardless of how true to tradition and regional differences the ceremony, nothing dilutes its power to celebrate a girl’s passage to maturity and confirm her place within the tapestry of family and community life as a woman.