A quinceañera is a birthday celebration of a girl's 15th birthday that symbolizes her transition into womanhood. Quinceañeras are primarily a tradition in Latino culture, particularly among Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.
History of Quinces
Quinceañeras originated from the ancient Aztecs who thrived during the 1400s and early 1500s. During that time, young girls were considered to be ready for marriage at the age of 15, so families would hold ceremonial rites of passage for their daughters to prepare the young women for their societal roles.
The European debutante aspects of quinceañeras are believed to have emerged after the Spanish invaded Mexico and overthrew the Aztec empire in the 1520s.
According to the Learn NC program at University of North Carolina School of Education, “Most societies have rituals signifying a passage to adulthood for both women and men, but the quinceañera is very distinctive. In former times, the girl’s fifteenth birthday would have signaled that she was an active, adult member of the community, fully ready to take on her share of responsibilities, and indicated that she was of marriageable age and status. Today, the tradition has taken on other meanings, but remains a celebration of womanhood, family and community.”
Quince Culture today
To celebrants and non-celebrants alike, the celebration can seen viewed as a combination of a “sweet sixteen” birthday party and a debutante ball. Some of the cultural traditions are still practiced, while others are left by the wayside. Some adapted the traditions to fit better with modern practices.
The Quinceañera industry is now a $400 million dollar industry in the United States, according to the Houston Chronicle. The costs of the dress, venue, cake, invitations, limo, food, and much more begin to add up.
Quinceañeras have almost become mainstream. There are specialty magazines like Quinceañera Magazine, and My Quince Magazine; online boutiques that specialize specifically in quinces; and event planning companies that list them as options. In Southern California, they hold mulitple Quinceañera.com Expo and Fashion Shows that let families meet with various party vendors and see current styles of dresses. Even mainstream American magazines like Seventeen Magazine acknowledge them as an event their readers celebrate.
In 2013, Disney Consumer Products created Disney Royal Ball collection, their first line of Quince gowns that are inspired by the personalities of Disney princesses. The spring 2015 collection includes Frozen characters.
The amount of preparation and planning depends on how elaborate the family or quince girl wants the quinceañera to be. Generally, they take between one to three years to plan.
Traditionally, quinceañera celebrants would wear floor-length ball gowns that were white or pale pink colored. The new quince culture has accepted dresses in various colors. The quince girl wears a tiara or crown to represent her high morals. She also wears slippers, or flat shoes, which are changed later. At some point during the party (different people do it at different times) the quince girl’s father removes her flat-soled shoes and replaces them with a pair of heels to symbolize her passage into womanhood. This is usually the first time in her life the girl wears heels.
Traditional quinceañeras usually include of a religious aspect and the celebration in the form of a party. The girl’s birthday begins with a Misa de acción de gracias (Mass) at a church in which thanks are given for her childhood, she reaffirms her dedication to God, and receives a blessing from the priest. In some traditions, the quince girl will give away a childhood item to a younger female relative to symbolically abandon her childhood.
At the church, the girl kneels on a pillow, decorated with her name on it, at the foot of the church altar and is given special gifts by her godparents, usually jewelry to complement her dress. Her gifts are often presented to her on smaller decorated pillows. At the end of the Mass, the quince girl usually leaves a bouquet of flowers at the altar or near a statue of the Virgin Mary or Virgin of Guadalupe.
The type of celebration after the Mass depends on the family’s budget. In some families, it is customary for relatives and community members to pitch in, acting as godfathers and godmothers, to finance the quinceañera. Godparents traditionally helped pay for the quinceañera.
Once at the party, the birthday girl must make a grand entrance. Customarily, the girl is accompanied by 14 maids of honor (damas) and escorts (chambelanes). They symbolize the 14 years of her life. Following the grand entrance, the quince girl performs a waltz with her father. She also dances with other members of her immediate family.
Before dinner, there is a toast for people to reflect on memories of the quince girl’s youth.
At some point during the celebration, the family may do a candle-lighting ceremony. During this ceremony, the quince girl lights 15 candles, each to honor someone who has been important in her life and helped her reach her maturity. Some families do the opposite by having the 15 selected people say something about the quince girl.
The party itself usually lasts between five to six hours.
Profile: Leslie Rosario
In June 2014, Leslie Rosario held her safari-themed quinceañera. Her celebration was traditional for her Puerto Rican heritage. Her uncle and godfather Luis Rodriguez explained the process, “We started at the house by taking photos and her parents putting on her accessories. We took photos at the Philadelphia Zoo to match her theme before going to the church. At the church, we started with the bendición and her shoes, crown, and accessories were blessed. Then, she was given a special sweet 15 ring and her father did the shoe exchange. After the ceremony, we went to Penn Treaty Park to take photos and then went to the reception at a hall.”
The celebration also included other traditions like a grand entrance with her court, a father-daughter dance, lighting 15 candles, and the toast for the quince girl.
The celebration took years to plan. “It took three years to coordinate with the students who were going to come out in it, and to make sure they had their outfits, costumes and choreography down,” Rodriguez said. “We also had to make sure it was coordinated with the church. She had to have ceremony classes, the first communion, confirmation, all of that.” From getting hair and make up done, to photo sessions, the quinceañera was a whole day process.
Rodriguez said the family decided to have a quinceañera because it’s tradition. “It’s a nice way to honor them and follow our culture from Puerto Rico. Most of her friends had sweet sixteens. She was one of the only ones who had it at 15. We just wanted to continue to celebrate the culture,” Rodriguez said.
“A lot of people do it now just as a party and not the religious aspect because of the chaos of church,” he added. “They don’t have that commitment to the church, first communion, baptism and all of that, so a lot of churches aren’t even accepting them.”
Profile: Arianna Denae Crespo
Arianna Denae Crespo’s quinceañera was held in May 2014. She wanted to follow basic traditions that are lost in today’s culture.
The family wanted to shed light on the fact that she was growing up and wanted the whole family to celebrate, according to Arianna’s mother Rosa Martinez. They also wanted to honor her relationship with her father.
“She was born after someone in our family passed away. Her birth brought everyone together so we wanted her quince to bring everyone together again,” Martinez said.
The entrance to the party showed a walk through her life. “We had cardboard cutouts of her life from different ages. We had one of her dressed like a ballerina, one in her father’s firefighter’s uniform, up until her turning 15 years old,” Martinez said.
Arianna’s quinceañera took a year and a half to plan, but the family wished they started planning earlier.
“After looking up the history and traditions, we decided to make the theme ‘Shoes’ because of the shoe exchanging tradition,” Martinez explained. “All of the girls had on the same dress, but wore different, crazy, and fun shoes that represented their personalities. The shoes had custom arch tags that said ‘Ari’s Quince.’”
The celebration incorporated some traditions like the shoe exchange and father-daughter dance, but was also customized to fit Arianna. Her court included her mom, dad, other important family members and friends. Instead of a church ceremony, the family had a Christian youth pastor pray over her and talked about meeting the family and about Arianna through the years. They also decided not to include the candle-lighting ceremony.
Profile: Sasha Nieves
For the family of 14 year old Sasha Nieves, this quinceañera is much more than just a party.
“While growing up, she went through a rough childhood with her parents. She has a lot of bad memories growing up. Now that she’s with me, and my husband and family, I wanted to give her some experiences that would give her good memories,” said Maria Rosado, Sasha’s grandmother and guardian. “We want something really big in her life to have a big impact so she can have these good memories to cross out the bad ones.”
Sasha’s Cinderella-themed celebration is planned for November 2014. “I’ve been planning it for about 3 years. I’ve been going to Florida to get actual Disney souvenirs. I want to give the 14 girls in her court actual Disney dolls,” Rosado said.
Her celebration will be a balance of traditional Puerto Rican quinceañera and the American sweet sixteen. “I didn’t want to wait for 16. I wanted to follow the Hispanic cultural quinceañera, but I like the American traditions too. I don’t want to lose my culture, but I also want to move forward. I don’t want them to forget or lose who they are, and where they came from even though they were born here,” Rosado said.
“We’ll have ceremony at the church and then the rest at the hall. We’ll be doing the shoe exchange, the replacing of the jeweled headpiece to a crown, placing a ring on her finger, and give her 15 beautiful things from 15 people who will state something positive for her to follow in life,” Rosado added.
Sasha herself sees the importance of embracing her culture during this occasion. “I think it’s important because people change tradition and it doesn’t have the same essence as when our ancestors did it. The world is changing and by following the traditions, we still have something in common with our ancestors,” she said.