What Is a Quinceañera and How Is It Celebrated?

elements of a quinceañera

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In Mexico, a girl who is having her 15th birthday is called a quinceañera. It is a combination of the Spanish words quince "fifteen" and años "years".The term may also be used to refer to a girl's 15th birthday party, although this is more often referred to as a "fiesta de quince años" or "fiesta de quinceañera."

In many countries in Latin America, it is customary to celebrate a girl's fifteenth birthday party in a very lavish manner. This celebration traditionally marks a girl's coming of age and afterwards she is considered a mature person who is ready to assume family and social responsibilities. It is somewhat equivalent to a debutante ball, or a coming-out party though these tend to be associated exclusively with the upper class whereas a quinceañera may be celebrated by people of all social strata. In the United States it has traditionally been the sixteenth birthday which is celebrated most extravagantly as the "Sweet Sixteen", however the custom of the quinceañera is gaining traction in the United States in recent years, particularly among Latino families.

History of the Quinceañera

Although it's likely that the custom of celebrating a girl's transition to womanhood was practiced in ancient times, the particular customs associated with the quinceañera probably date back to the time when Porfirio Diaz was president (1876-1911). He is famous for having been enthralled by all things European, and many European customs were adopted in Mexico during the years of his presidency, known as el Porfiriato.

Portrait of girl
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Quinceañera Customs

A quinceañera celebration usually begins with a mass in church (Misa de Accion de Gracias or "thanksgiving mass") to give thanks for the girl making the transition to a young woman. The girl wears a full-length ball gown in the color of her choice and carries a matching bouquet. Following the mass, the guests repair to a banquet hall where the party will take place, or in rural communities tables, chairs and a tent area may be set up to accommodate the festivities. The party is an extravagant affair that goes on for several hours. Flowers, balloons and decorations matching the birthday girl's dress are ubiquitous. The party will consist of dinner and dancing, but there are also several special traditions that are a part of the celebration though these may vary regionally.The parents, godparents, and often other family members have roles to play in the celebration.

Here are some of the elements of quinceañera celebrations that are common in Mexico:

  • Chambelanes: This would be translated as "chamberlains," these are boys or young men who escort the quinceañera and perform a choreographed dance with her. The dance is referred to as a waltz, but often incorporates other dance styles.
  • La última muñeca (the last doll): The birthday girl is presented with a doll which is said to be her last doll because after turning fifteen she will be too old to play with dolls anymore. As part of a ritual she passes the doll on to a sister or other younger family member.
  • El primer ramo de flores (the first flower bouquet): the birthday girl is offered a bouquet of flowers which is symbolically the first flowers she is offered as a young woman.
  • Fifteen piñatas: The girl breaks fifteen small piñatas, one for each year of her life.

The climax of the festivities is the cutting of a multi-tiered birthday cake, and the guests sing the traditional birthday song, Las Mañanitas, to the birthday girl.

The quinceañera is celebrated on a grand scale and often ends up being very costly for the family. For this reason it is customary for the extended family and good family friends to make contributions, with money or help in providing the things that are necessary for the party.

Some families may decide not to throw a party, and will instead use the money that would have gone towards the celebration for the girl to go on a trip instead.

Also Known As: fiesta de quince años, fiesta de quinceañera

Alternate Spellings: quinceanera

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Barbezat, Suzanne. "What Is a Quinceañera and How Is It Celebrated?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-quinceanera-1588854. Barbezat, Suzanne. (2021, December 6). What Is a Quinceañera and How Is It Celebrated? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-quinceanera-1588854 Barbezat, Suzanne. "What Is a Quinceañera and How Is It Celebrated?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-quinceanera-1588854 (accessed June 6, 2023).