Quinceañera Celebrations

In Latino culture, a girl's fifteenth birthday party is a religious and social occasion that ushers her into womanhood. Learn the traditions of this coming-of-age celebration.

The History
Celebrated by the Mayans and Aztecs, and later adapted by the Spanish Catholics that conquered South America, a girl's fifteenth birthday symbolized that she was ready for womanhood and marriage. She would spend time learning her duties, such as cooking, housework, cleaning, and child-rearing. After the fifteenth birthday party a girl was expected to get married. If she did not by the time she was sixteen or seventeen, she had options of becoming a priestess or staying home to take care of her parents. Today, girls still celebrate quinceañera as an entrance into becoming responsible, dating, and learning about their religion and culture.

The Religious Ceremony
The Quinceañera begins with the family and friends attending a special Mass dedicated to the birthday girl. During the ceremony, fourteen couples walk down the aisle behind her symbolizing the previous fourteen years of her life. Traditionally, the birthday marked the end of her childhood, and announced to the world that she was ready for married life. Today, preparing for the fifteenth birthday ceremony usually includes religion and culture classes so that the girl can begin to learn about and understand her culture.

The Party
This is what all the teenagers look forward to. A reception hall is rented or the family hosts the party in their home. Usually a DJ or live Mariachi band is hired to play while all the partygoers dance the night away. There is food and drink for everyone, and the birthday girl gets to dance with all the boys, beginning, of course, with her father.

The Dress
Considered an important, if not the most important part of the celebration, is the quinceañera dress. Traditionally, Quinceañeras wear long pink or white gowns, even though today all pastel colors are popular and girls may wear whatever color they wish. The occasion itself can be anywhere from very formal to quite casual, depending on what the family decides upon.

The Rituals
During the course of the evening, there are little rituals that are usually performed as symbols of the girl's life change. A porcelain doll is presented by the birthday girl to her younger sister as a sign that she is leaving those things behind. The Quinceañera's father also changes her shoes from flats to heels for the same reason. The first dance is performed by the birthday girl and her father, followed by a "chambelan", or boyfriend, followed by all the other boys.