So, I am working on a Quinceañera – a very traditional Quinceañera and the Quinceañera to be asks me, “why do I have to do the church”? Her mom and I just looked at her in awwwww like “what do you mean WHY Mija? Because any respectable Latina has a mass for her Quinces!” LOL So, I thought it was a good subject to blog since I feel that the true meaning of the Quinceañera Fiesta has escaped us in recent year and with the new reality shows push for the BIGGEST and BEST party.
Deep in cultural and religious meaning, the Quinceañera is a very important Rite Of Passage For The Latino Community. It is a time when childhood is left behind and Adulthood is embraced by the special birthday girl along with her family and friends. The Quinceañera celebration is based on ancient indigenous puberty rituals. Young people were introduced to the sacred ways of their ancestors and were prepared for a life of service to the community. Therefore, the Quinceañera celebration is a religious cultural tradition; it not a sacrament.
Before you celebrate your Quinceañera, it’s important for you to think about the religious meaning of the ceremony. You already know that a Quinceañera represents a transition into adulthood and if you are a devout follower, then it also represents a commitment to God. The Mass is in essence a blessing – your parents bless you and the priest blesses you as you enter another phase in your life. You’re no longer a little girl, you are a young woman. It’s a beautiful mass where God is asked to guide you in the right direction and give you wisdom to make wise choices as a young Christian woman. Once you are blessed, you can resume your religious commitment to society
The ceremony of the 15 candles usually takes place at the church, as well. However, if no ceremony is being done, it can take place at the venue. In this ceremony the birthday girl delivers fifteen candles to people who she considers were most influential in her development during her fifteen years. It is often accompanied by a speech, usually dedicated to each of the people that are given candles. This ceremony is also known as the Tree of Life. The 15 candles symbolize the 15 years the girl has "left behind". Each of the candles symbolizes a special memory, a moment shared with any person who is invited to join the ritual.
Every Latin-American country does this a little different. So as not to bore you, I will stick with the two cultures that I know. My two halves.
Cuba. Cubans know how to party! Everything with us Cubans has to be OVER the top – and not to be had without our famous pig! LOL The party usually includes a choreographed group dance. The choreography often includes the Court (or the 14 couples) who dance around the Quinceañera. Back in the day – on the mother land - they were usually inexperienced dancers whose function is to highlight the central couple. Fifteenth birthday celebrations were very popular in Cuba until the late 70s. This practice partly entered Cuba via Spain, but the greatest influence was the French. The wealthy families who could afford to rent expensive dining rooms in private clubs or hotels of four and five stars were the real precursors of Quinceañeras, which they called Quinces. These celebrations usually took place in the house of the girl or the more spacious house of a relative. Although this is a tradition that is still practiced today in Latin America and Hispanic communities in North America, we sometimes tend to focus more on the wishes of the Quinceañera.
Nowadays – the more modern turn to this tradition includes a “trendy” choreography which sometimes even entails a change of wardrobe by La Quinceanera and her Court. Still, the first dance is usually the Waltz. She dances with Dad, she dances with her Padrino (god-father) and then finally, with her partner.
Now to my more humble but not to be outdone or less lively, Mexicanos! The Mexicans are more traditional in the Quinceañera. They are focused on the religious ceremony and of course, no Quinceañera is complete without Mariachis! Arriba pues!
In Mexico, the birthday girl is fixed up and wears make-up, usually for the first time EVER. More recently this is no longer the case. Mexicans are very very traditional and strict. So, their daughter probably never wore make-up nor did she get “done-up”.
In the Mexican tradition - the Quinceañera festival begins with a mass. For this mass, the teenager comes dressed with a formal dress, usually a pastel color, frilly, lacy, “pretty”. Reminiscent of what a western bride or princess would wear. However, in North America, Quinceanera’s don’t always wear white, peach or pink! I’ve even seen them in dare I say it? RED! LOL Big Taboo for your Abuelita to see you in a RED dress, but it’s the modern take on the Quinceanera. We can’t EVERYTHING as they did on the mother-land now can we?
Ok – so at this mass, a rosary, or even a necklace with an image of Mexico's virgin de Guadalupe, is awarded to the teenager by her God-Parents, usually - they will have had this necklace blessed by the church clergy. She is also awarded a tiara by her mom usually, as a reminder that to her loved ones, especially her immediate family, she will always be a princess. After this, the girl may leave her bouquet of flowers on the altar to the Virgin Mary.
In Mexico - after the mass, the family and friends of the teenager gather for a celebration party where they give her gifts. The party may take place at the birthday girl's house, on the street (known as a tocada), or at an events room, such as a dining or banquet hall. In essence, “une salon” .
At the party, there will be a formal entry – this is where the girl enters the room where the guests have been waiting for arrival. Basically – her coming out! It’s a big deal. The toast – and his part is optional, and may be done spontaneously, i.e., not previously choreographed. This part of the event consists of the touching of the glasses to celebrate the birthday. It oftentimes incorporates the delivery of a short speech previously prepared by the girl's parents or godparents.
Now for the dancing – in Mexico – she dances the waltz with the chambelanes - the chambelanes take turns dancing with the birthday girl during this first dance of the night. So she dances with each of her 14 chambelanes. Then there is a family waltz - a waltz involving just the immediate relatives and closest friends of the birthday girl. Lastly - the general waltz - everyone dances to a musical waltz tune and then a preferred song - which is any modern song particularly preferred by the quinceañera is played.
Nowadays and more importantly, in non-Mexican traditions, we don’t do so many dances. She will dance with her dad, her god-father and her partner. Naturally, if she has a brother or an uncle, etc., she will share a dance with them too.
Remember I told you Mexican were strict? Well, Mexican girls cannot dance in public until they are fifteen except at school dances or at family events. Thus, the Quinceanera waltz with the chambelanes is the girl's first ever public dance. There can also be other rituals such as the ritual of the last doll ("La Ultima Muñeca"). This ritual based on a Maya tradition and it is related to the birthday girl's possession of a childhood toy of her liking. It makes reference to the last such toy in her life since, after the Quinceañera event, the girl is now coming closer to marriage and adult life. Another ritual is the ritual of the shoe. In this ritual the teenager's father changes her flat, low-heel shoes to high heels, symbolizing, again, the girl's passage into maturity.
After these rituals, the dinner starts. At this point the celebration reaches its high point: contracted musical groups, usually Mariachi’s, start to play their music, adding more excitement to the party. The music is played while the guests dine, chat, mingle, and dance. Nowadays, we have a DJ who provides the entertainment. However, in recent years, Mariachi’s are gaining their popularity again in the States.
The next morning the family and closest friends may also attend a special breakfast, known as the recalentado (re-warming), in which any food not consumed during the event of the night before is warmed again and served with beer or soft drinks. Those Mexicans and do it up, can’t they!
So you see my friends, next time someone asks you why, it’s not just “because I said so”. There is a reason Latino’s do what we do!