Many Quinceañeras are celebrated as a religious event, as well as a social event. In many countries, the celebration is started by a special mass or benediction by the Church. Since many Latin countries are traditionally Catholic, the religious aspects of the celebration are often steeped in the rich history of Roman Catholicism.
Usually the Mass and the party are separated by several hours. Since holding the party in the church would be considered sacrilegious and in poor taste the parties are almost never held in the church or on church grounds. Generally speaking, the party is held in a rented hall, as it is not common for someone’s home to be large enough to accommodate anywhere from 50 to 300 guests.
Many of the traditions of the Quinceañera have a religious significance, like that of ceremony of the 15 candles or the traditional crown of flowers (modern day versions are now tiaras). Many prayers are made throughout the celebration giving thanks to God for another year of life and the continued prosperity of the family and community.
Quinceañeras have a standard order of events that seem to be the same in most countries. There are differences, of course, depending on the culture and wealth of the families involved. For example, in the United States, the girl is often brought to the party using a limousine service with her father. They will make a grand entrance while music plays, often live. Family and friends will present the father with flowers. However, in Argentina, the girl will often arrive by horse drawn carriage, accompanied by her father and several older relatives before making a grand entrance.
The ball is customarily divided into 12 sections, in between which various courses of food are offered to the guests. Sometimes, these are more formal courses and are offered in a dinner setting, other times, the food is offered in a buffet style setting.
The standard order of events is:
- Arrival and Entrance
- Father Daughter Waltz
- First course
- Second dance
- Main Meal
- Desserts and Sweets
- Video playback of the event
- 15-Candle ceremony
- Third dance
- Toast and Cake Cutting
- Charm Ribbons and gifts
- Last Dance
The Ceremony of 15 candles is a special ceremony in which fifteen people that the girl considers most influential, such as grandparents, parents, uncles, teachers, cousins and priests, are honored. There is almost always a speech accompanied by 15 candles that she hands to each of the individuals she has chosen to honor, starting with her mother. In the event that her mother has passed away, a close female relative is chosen to be a stand in for her mother. Each of the candles represents a special memory or moment she shares with the individual.
Originally this tradition was a small, simple affair that reflected the status of the girl being honored. It gave the girls the chance to meet with local men who were looking for a wife. Rich families would often publish the affair in newspapers as well sending out invitations to various other families whom also had eligible sons. The parties would be planned out many months in advance so that travel plans could be arranged and everything could be presented perfectly.
Modern Quinceañeras can cost upwards of 20,000 dollars, the same amount of money that it would cost for a wedding. A family with many girls can find themselves in debt for many years. Because of this, the Quinceañera is now often funded by the extended family and even the community.
The first noted quinceañeras documented in the United States happened in the latter part of the 20th century in Texas. However, this celebration has been around since 500 a.d in various forms in Mesoamerica. Spanish-Aztec women were known to celebrate in a similar fashion shortly after the Spanish Conquests. Historical documents have made reference to the daughters of Aztec nobility being offered to Spanish aristocracy by means of this festival.
Recent traditions include setting up websites and social media accounts to advertise the status and wealth of the girl and her families to all her friends. Occasionally, local news will air segments on the events, if the girl’s family is powerful enough. It’s not uncommon to see write ups in the society and gossip pages of magazines and newspapers as well, as the celebration becomes more mainstream.
Our first blog series will be about the Quinceañera, the time honored traditional celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday in Latin American Culture. This birthday is one of the most important in a girl’s life, as it marks the formal coming of age and the transition from child to woman in the eyes of the community. It is traditionally a Catholic tradition, although in recent years, it is has become a tradition in Latin communities, regardless of religious affilitation.
According to a long held oral tradition, the Quinceañera came about during the middle to late 1800’s, when girls were considered adults at 15 and expected to either marry or become nuns. Traditionally, the end of childhood begins at the onset of puberty, at which time the girl is expected to put away childish things and learn all the things necessary to run a household after marriage. Starting around age 10, girls would be taught to cook, sew, care for children and other basic household tasks under the tutelage of the older women in the community.
At 15, the girl would be considered to be old enough to be married and would, in a world without digital communication, need to be introduced to society as an eligible woman. Thus, the Quinceañera was born!
In some countries, the party is a small affair and may include examples of the girl’s skills, such as a feast prepared by her and her family or singing performed in front of the community. On other countries, it is more of lavish affair that is more of a debutante ball filled with music, fancy dresses and lavish cakes.
However it is celebrated, you can be sure that it is a tradition that will continue on throughout the years, continuously evolving with current trends times.
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