‘Quinceañera’ is a Spanish word that has two meanings: It refers to a girl who is 15 years old, and it’s the word for the coming-of-age celebration for when a girl turns 15 years old.
Historically, quinceanera has a many centuries-ago origin when both boys and girls celebrated rites of passage, and young girls were prepared to enter womanhood by learning from the elder women in the community lessons about their future roles as members of the family and of the community. Later, missionaries transformed the ritual into a personal affirmation of faith, and a pledge to become good Christian wives and mothers. Then a church celebration comes next because it is an important part of the ritual.
Now, the quinceanera celebration often begins with a church ceremony or Mass, and then a lavish party follows. A modern quinceanera celebration may be very much like a wedding, held in a grand ballroom, with a large guest list filled with relatives and friends who feast on a celebratory meal and enjoy dancing. Some families choose to include a traditional mariachi band as the quinceanera entertainment, and some blend in cultural music with modern music, to create an outstanding party in honor of the 15 year-old girl.
Also part of the quinceanera may be a presentation of the birthday girl to the crowd, and special dances that have been choreographed and learned over months. Some families begin saving for and planning an elaborate quincenera for a daughter since birth, and the godparents may also be involved in paying for the quinceanera celebration.
In addition to dances that are performed during the quinceanera celebration, other details involved in a traditional quincenera include:
- Lavish décor, including floral centerpieces and floral garlands.
- Choosing a quinceanera theme to include in all décor elements of the party.
- Having 14 male and female attendants and escorts, called damas and chambelanes, to represent the previous 14 years of life
- The young woman wears an elaborate dress that may be pastel in color, or more recently, a top quinceanera trend is to wear a dress in a bold color.
- The birthday girl may present a porcelain doll to a younger sister to symbolize her moving away from childhood into young womanhood, or the birthday girl may receive a final childhood doll for her collection from her godparents.
- The quinceanera girl will change from flats to high heeled shoes to symbolize her transition from girl to young woman, and quinceanera girls invest more now into stylish designer shoes for this ritual.
- The quinceanera may be crowned as another symbol of her transition to young womanhood.
- The quinceanera will dance the first dance with her father.
- The celebration continues in the young woman’s honor, culminating in the enjoyment of a lavish cake and the new trend of dessert stations.