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Summary Article: QUINCEAñERA
from Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions

The “fiesta de quince años,” “mis quince,” or “Quinceañera” is a traditional Latino celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday and coming of age. For Latinos this birthday party, “La Quinceañera” or birthday girl, is an important rite of passage that officially marks the end of childhood and the beginning of womanhood.

The North American version of this important cultural event is a girl's sweet sixteen birthday party, or a “coming out” at a debutante ball. The difference between a sweet sixteen event and a quinceañera is that a quinceañera literally presents a production via a musical ensemble recognizing the girl's journey from childhood to maturity. The event is a combination of religious, cultural, and social traditions that family, extended family members, and close family friends commemorate in the celebration of coming of age of a young adolescent Latina.

In a quinceañera, Latinos proudly introduce their adolescent daughter to society, acknowledging that she is now ready for additional responsibilities and ready to receive suitors. Parents who opt to celebrate their daughter's rite of passage with the purchase of new cars and trips abroad are often frowned upon because Latinos consider this rite of passage more than just a social responsibility. Latinos consider this rite a moral responsibility that must be fulfilled to ensure continued blessings for their daughter's life.

All quinceañeras, regardless of socio-economic status, include a special mass in which parents thank God for their daughter's life and humbly ask the Creator for additional blessings as she enters the next stage of womanhood which will include her physically leaving the family.

Yanelis Ganuzas, center, dances during her quinceañera party in Hialeah, Florida, in 2009. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Since there was historically no Church-approved ritual for the blessing of a quinceañera, most celebrants spontaneously created prayers and ritual. The increasing demand for this type of blessing expanded alongside the increasing number of Latinos in the United States that contributed to the development of a quinceañera ritual.

An official blessing for the fifteenth birthday was approved by the full body of United States bishops and received the recognitio from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2007. Latinos make many sacrifices to ensure their daughters receive God's blessings throughout their lives.

Selection of the Date

Selection of the date of celebration begins at least two years before the actual fifteenth birthday celebration. During this time, parents save money and make decisions regarding the scale of the celebration. A well-organized production requires parents to make decisions early regarding rental venues, entertainment, and catering services. Quinceañeras are considered formal affairs that merit an elaborate sit-down dinner. The quinceañera herself must make decisions regarding her Court of Honor. She must decide from among her closest friends and family who will join her in her Court of Honor—comparable to a bridal party. A Court of Honor is a group of fourteen boys and girls who will share the spotlight on the day of the party. Since most quinceañera celebrations will exceed the financial means of the family, parents will need to dedicate a good amount of time to the selection of padrinos or godparents who are sponsors or benefactors. The sponsors are a mixture of the extended family, close friends, or members of the community who will share the cost of the event, cooperate with small one-time donations, or sponsor one of the main gifts that symbolize the rite of passage.

Padrinos

Asking sponsors for donations is not perceived as demeaning among Latinos since the sponsors, once they accept the invitation, know that they have agreed to pay for the expenses. Latinos are a family-oriented community who believe that helping each other in tough times is a moral responsibility of reciprocity.

For Latinos, the concept of family goes beyond blood ties, and social kinship is just as important. Christening godparents become members of the extended family and so will each of the padrinos of a quinceañera. A quinceañera's padrinos will be known as compadre or comadre and will be invited to all future family functions.

Traditionally, a quinceañera had two sets of padrinos—godparents or grandparents—who witnessed the blessing and presented her with gifts at church. However, the number of padrinos has increased as the cost of production of such an event has been affected by rising market prices. The primary padrinos are usually the christening godparents or a set of favored relatives invited to sponsor their choice of the quinceañera dress, a cross, Bible and rosary, or church fee. Secondary padrinos are aunts, uncles, or adult family friends invited to sponsor their choice of various items: a ring, bracelet, last doll, high heels, tiara and scepter, quinceañera cake, limousine, floral arrangements, invitations, videos and studio photographs. The number of padrinos depends on the family's financial need as well as the scale of the party.

The Attire

A quinceañera celebration resembles a fairy-tale event with the birthday girl expecting to wear a full-length ball gown. The color of the dress is traditionally pastel pink, but some girls have chosen other more vibrant shades of pink, and some have even picked a completely different color like red, yellow, and blue. The Court of Honor is also fully dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos. The girls, or las damas, wear matching dresses in a shade of color that will not detract attention from the main girl, while the boys, or los chambelanes, wear tuxedos with the main escort the chambelan de honor in a color that will set him apart from the rest. The composition of a Court of Honor varies. Some quinceañeras have a court of honor consisting of boys only, girls only, while others may exclude it completely.

Special Mass

The day begins with a limousine picking up the quinceañera and her Court of Honor, driving them to the church for the special mass or misa de acción or misa de gracias. During the mass the quinceañera renews her baptismal vows before God, her family, and the Catholic community. During this ritual, the priest blesses her Bible and rosary as well as her cross or medal presented by the main padrinos. These important items will be used by the young lady throughout her life as a Catholic wife and mother. It has become a tradition for quinceañeras to offer one of her two floral bouquets to our Lady of Guadalupe as a token of appreciation for her guidance and protection. At the conclusion of the mass, the quinceañera and her chambelan de honor rise to exit followed by their court, and then parents, and relatives. The remainder of the congregation files out in order in a beautiful final tribute to the young woman who has just emerged from childhood.

The Reception

The reception begins with the arrival of the quinceañera and her Court of Honor. The guests—family members, extended family, padrinos, and adult friends who are close to the family—welcome the quinceañera and her Court of Honor with a hardy applause as they promenade around the dance floor. As the background music continues, the master of ceremony requests the padrinos to approach presenting their gifts—a tiara, scepter, bracelet, and ring. A beautiful porcelain doll representing the last gift of childhood is also presented. Either the parents or padrinos may purchase and present the doll.

The doll ceremony is followed by the changing of the shoes. This tradition changes the flat heel of a child to the elevated heel of a woman. Adorned with the shoes of womanhood, the tiara, and scepter, the quinceañera rises from her chair, now a princess, hand extended. Her father or most significant male in her life immediately rises taking her hand and escorts her to the dance floor. For hundreds of years in Western society the Vienna waltz has symbolized the quinceañera's presentation to adult society. At mid-waltz, the father releases the quinceañera's hand to her escort or chambelan de honor, symbolizing the father's permission for gentlemen callers.

As the music ends, the Court of Honor joins the quinceañera and her escort on the dance floor. Together they share the spotlight, performing a beautifully choreographed and vibrant dance to a more contemporary Latin American beat. As the music ends and the applause subsides, guests quietly admire the new woman who is now ready for life's challenges.

Conclusion of the Celebration

With the conclusion of the last dance of the evening, the rite of passage is complete, but the celebration does not end there. The ritual celebration now turns into a vivacious and spectacular party with dancing, singing, and endless conversations about past and future quinceañeras. Family bonds are now stronger as new padrinos become members of a new extended family. The quinceañera dances with her father, each of her padrinos, uncles, cousins, and friends. At mid-party, a toast is offered in honor of the new woman celebrating her “coming out.” The champagne glasses for the toast are presented to the quinceañera and her main escort by her padrinos. The toast is led by the quinceañera's father, most significant male, or master of ceremony. There are champagne flutes for the adults and apple cider for the quinceañera, her Court of Honor, and all other minors in attendance. Friends and family take turns congratulating her and wishing her well in her new endeavors.

After the toast, the quinceañera is presented with an engraved cake-serving-set courtesy of the padrinos. Guests and family join in sing happy birthday, and in some parties Latinos surprise the quinceañera and guests with a live mariachi band who sing the traditional Las Mañanitas, or happy birthday song in Spanish.

See also: Comadre/Compadre

Further Reading
  • Alvarez, Julia. Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. Viking Penguin Group New York, 2008.
  • Herrera-Sobek, María. Chicano Folklore: A Handbook. Greenwood Press Westport CT, 2007.
  • Lankford, Mary D. Quinceañera: A Latina's Journey to Womanhood. Millbrook Press Brookfield CT, 1994.
  • Salcedo, Michele. Quinceañera! The Essential Guide to Planning the Perfect Sweet Fifteen Celebration. Henry Holt and Co. New York, 1997.
  • Vigil, Angel. Una Linda Raza: Cultural and Artistic Traditions of the Hispanic Southwest. Fulcrum Publishing Golden CO, 1998.
  • Gabriela Sosa Zavaleta
    Copyright 2012 Daina Ramey Berry and Deleso A. Alford