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La Quinceanera

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In Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries a girl’s entrance into womanhood and her eligibility for marriage is celebrated at her QuinceaƱera. “From a North of the Boarder viewpoint, it may be seen as a cross between a Sweet 16 and a debutante’s coming out party.” (Palfrey). The origins of the QuinceaƱera can be traced back to the time of the Aztecs. “It was traditional for the parents of a young Aztec maiden to formally acknowledge her passage into womanhood. This would include a stern but tender exhortation of the passage.” (Palfrey). The planning for a QuinceaƱera is done well ahead of time, sometimes in years before the actual event. The event can cost upwards of that of a small wedding. The QuinceaƱera is important because from the day on the sweet fifteen girl can find a good path to become a better person with new ideas, because until that day everything was made easy for her, everything was beautiful. Now she will grow up to be a matured person with many responsibilities.” (Alomar and Zwolinski).

One of the most important processes of the QuinceaƱera celebration is choosing a dress. The dress is usually custom-made or bought at a specialty store. “Like the wedding gown, the QuinceaƱera dress marks a change in the wearer’s status.” (La QuinceaƱera). Dresses vary in color, with the traditional QuinceaƱera dress color being white. “In Central America, Cuba and in Puerto Rico the dress is invariably pink or at least a pastel shade such as lavender, blue, or yellow.” (La QuinceaƱera). Some of the most important people in the traditional celebration include padrinos de velacion who in the past will pay for the mass, the madrina de anillo who gives the girl a birthstone ring, the madrina de medalla who will the girl a medal with her patron saint and the madrina de libro y rosario who will present the girl with a bible and the rosary beads. Another tradition is that the girl picks fourteen of her friends to act as damas, the14 girls will then each have an escort or chamberlains. These 28 people act as the QuinceaƱera’s court and represent each year of her life.

The first official tradition of the event is the Misa de accion de gracias or Thanksgiving mass. Many times this ceremony will be included into a normal Sunday mass celebrated after a girl’s fifteenth birthday. At the beginningĀ of the Thanksgiving Mass the honored QuinceaƱera is led by her parents, god parents, and members of her Court. Each couple of the court enters and then lastly the 15 year old celebrating her birthday enters with her parents and godparents. She is then greeted by her pastor and during the mass the girl will sit at the front of the church near the altar while the pastor performs the ceremony. “At the end of the ceremony the court members as well as siblings and cousins pass out bolos or commemorative favors to those in attendance, while the QuinceaƱera places her floral bouquet on an altar honoring the Virgin Mary.” (Palfrey).

After the mass there is a large celebration where many traditional dances as well as gifts are giving to the QuinceaƱera. The first traditional dance is a waltz with her father. Two of the most traditional events at the celebration are that of a father removing a girl’s flat shoes and replacing them with high heels and the girl’s mother placing a crown on her head. “The crown and shoes play a pivotal role in the birthday girl’s transformation in the eyes of the community from girl to woman.” (Alomar and Zwolinski). Also there are numerous gifts that are given to the QuinceaƱera. At the ceremony that I attended, my best friend’s little sister, received a tiara, bracelet, earrings, a cross, bible, rosary and a doll. “The Tiara symbolizes that a girl is a princess before god, the bracelet, a symbol of the unending circle of life, and the earrings a reminder to listen to the word of God. The Cross, Bible, and Rosary all symbolize religious faith.” (Resendes).

When asked about the doll, E. Kasper said that it is a tradition for the mother to give a doll to represent childhood. “In past years the doll was handmade, like my great grandmother had a handmade doll. For my celebration my mom purchased a QuinceaƱera Barbie, as we lost my great grandmother’s doll. I would have preferred a handmade doll from the past, but I was happy to be following in my family’s footsteps with the other gifts such as the rosary which was my grandmother’s.” (Kasper). Food is also a very important aspect of the celebration. “Whereas 30 years ago fiestas such as the QuinceaƱera required mole, cabrito, pozole, tamales, depending on the season, today’s celebrations seem to require only a meal and a cake.” (La Quinceaera). There are also many dances that are celebrated during the ceremony, the court of honor will often practice a dance routine months before the actual event.

This is performed first, the godparents will then join in this dance and then dance floor is open to guests. Often the escorts from the court of honor will then take turns dancing with the QuinceaƱera. As the reception nears a close there is a festejada, which is a traditional waltz that is danced by the quinceaera and one of her chamberlains from the court. (Resendes).

As mentioned above I attended the QuinceaƱera of E.Kasper. E turned fifteen on February 8, 2004. “Although it is now customary that the fiesta be held on the Friday or Saturday closest to the actual birthday, some fiestas are held before or after due to scheduling or costs. Other fiestas are held on the exact birthday.” (La QuinceaƱera). As February 8, 2004 fell on a Sunday, her parents and pastor incorporated her Misa de accion de gracias into the traditional Sunday mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. When asked how she would describe a QuinceaƱera Elizabeth responded by saying “La QuinceaƱera is a very important celebration for a teenage girl in Latin culture. It gives you a sense of direction, responsibility, and introduces you to society.” (Kasper). While I had heard about QuinceaƱera celebrations from my Spanish classes in high school, I really didn’t expect that I would be able to actually see one and be invited to one. Even though I was only a guest in this celebration, the celebration encompassed friends and family and it was a great experience.


Alomar, Ladan and Zwolinski, Mary. Quinceanera, A celebration of Latina Womanhood. Voices Vol. 28, Fall-Winter, 2002http://www.nyfolklore.org/pubs/voic28-3-4/onair.html

Kasper, E. Personal Interview. June 15, 2004.

Palfrey, Dale Hoyt. La QuinceaƱera: An Hispanic Celebration of Budding Womanhood http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/dpalfrey/dpquince.html

Resendes, Raymond. “The Celebration of the Quinceanera”

La Quinceaera: Towards an Ethnographic Analysis of a Life Cycle Ritual [1] http://colfa.utsa.edu/cantu/quinceaera.html

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