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  • Writer's pictureBarbra Davis

The Charming Tradition of Quinceanera

A while back I saw a book about the celebration of Quinceanera, and it made me curious about this interesting and beautiful tradition of the Hispanic culture. It seems like a combination of a wedding, a birthday celebration and a princess fantasy, all things I love! How wonderful for a young girl to be ushered into adulthood in such a way. After a bit of research, here are some of the things I learned about this charming tradition.

What is Quinceanera, and why is it such a big event in the Hispanic culture?

The term “quinceanera” means fifteen, and Quinceanera is the feminine form of “fifteen-year-old.” The Quinceanera event is designed to celebrate a teen girl’s (la Quinceanera) official transition from childhood to adulthood.

To commemorate this special time, the girl traditionally invites everyone who has been involved in her life, especially those who have impacted her in a special way. Basically, it’s a fantasy birthday party, filled with rich traditions and symbolism. Each aspect is designed to remind the girl and her guests that she is no longer a child, and that they have influenced her for the good. A Quinceanera is a joyous event for the entire family.

As you can imagine, this kind of party takes a lot of careful planning and is often quite expensive. This is where the web of family and friends comes into play, as they volunteer their time, talents and sometimes funds, to help make the event very special for the young lady being celebrated.

How is the Quinceanera Celebrated?

While there are a multitude of traditions surrounding the Quinceanera celebration, modern families start with the customs most meaningful to them, then add their own twist to make the event unique and special for the young lady involved.

The Quinceanera celebration traditionally begins with a religious ceremony. The young lady rides to church in a limousine or the family’s best car. The young girl enters the church, followed by her court, a moment similar to a wedding procession. Next, a quinceanera mass is celebrated to give thanks to the Lord for her experiences during childhood, and to allow her to receive a blessing for her future experiences as a woman. After the Gospel and homily are presented, the Quinceanera generally renews the baptismal promise made for her by her parents, thus making it her own.

The church service is followed by a formal reception, in a home or a banquet hall, where the Quinceanera is officially presented. Some of the events included are the father/ daughter waltz, the toast and the Court waltz. Dinner and entertainment, by a live band, a DJ or both, are included in the celebration. There is always a toast to the Quinceanera (the brindis), usually made with decorated champagne glasses.

The belle of the ball chooses some close friends to join her in her Court of Honor. This group is composed of all young girls (Damas), all young men (Chambelanes or Escortes), or a combination of both. A typical court has seven couples, with each person representing a year of the young girl’s life to date. The Quinceanera traditionally wears a formal ball gown, so her Court is also dressed in gowns and tuxedos.

It is customary for the Quinceanera to receive traditional gifts for her transition. Some of these are a cross or religious medal (representing her faith in God), a personal Bible, a rosary or a prayer book. Sometimes a scepter is given, symbolizing the girl’s now taking responsibility for her life. Modern celebrants often receive general gifts ranging from gift cards to make-up articles.

To thank her guests for attending, the Quinceanera usually gives them each a small token that commemorates the occasion. These tiny gifts are often pretty ribbons printed with the Quinceanera’s name and birth date.

Some of the traditions and symbols of Quinceanera

This party marks the first time the Quinceanera is allowed to wear makeup and to dress in a “grown up” way. She wears a headpiece, which separates her from the members of her Court. (This is later replaced by a tiara.) She often wears earrings and/or a ring given to her by her godparents. The jewelry represents a circle of endless love, and a reminder to obey God’s word.

The Quinceanera Dress – As her first “grown-up” dress, the girl’s gown is designed to be dramatic. Traditionally created with a lot of tulle, the dress should make her look like a princess. Since white signifies purity in her culture, the dress may be white.

Quinceanera Toast – Toasts and speeches are usually made before all the other events of the dinner. The parents of the girl toast everyone present, thanking them for being part of this special day. Other guests may also toast, and often the Quinceanera makes the final toast.

The Last Doll – The Quinceanera receives a lovely doll, symbolizing her new maturity and leaving her playthings behind. The doll sometimes holds the ribbons which will later be distributed to her guests. The doll may then be used as part of the ceremony or as a decoration. Sometimes the doll is given to a younger sister to enjoy.

Changing of the Shoes – During the reception, the girl’s father removes her flat shoes and replaces them with high heels. Symbolically, the flats represent her childhood and the new heels represent stepping into adulthood.

The Tiara – It is traditional for the Quinceanera’s headpiece to be replaced with a tiara during the celebration. This "crowning," generally performed by her mother or a godparent, indicates that she is viewed as a princess before God and her family.

The Quinceanera Bouquet – This is a beautiful arrangement the Quinceanera receives, often in exchange for her new doll. It symbolizes her moving from childish interests to mature ones. If the girl is Catholic, the bouquet is usually left at the church altar in honor of the Virgin Mary.

The Quinceanera Waltz – At a specific point in the ceremony, the young woman dances with her father to a song he has chosen. This is always a song with deep meaning for both of them, and it often leads to tears. The dance is meant to illustrate that her father is the first man in her life. When the waltz is over, her father usually hands the Quinceanera off to a member of her Court (now she is allowed to dance with other men) and the court waltz begins.

Candle Lighting – This is a ceremony designed to allow the Quinceanera to express her gratitude to special loved ones in her life. Usually she picks 15 people who have impacted her life the most and gives each of them a lighted candle. When she has distributed the last candle, she blows out all the candles.

Added all together, these events will create a lifelong memory for the young girl being honored. Don’t you wish you had experienced such love and blessing at age 15?

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