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The fiesta de quince años (also fiesta de quinceañera, quince años, quinceañera and quinces) is a celebration of a girl's 15th birthday. It has its cultural roots in Mexico and is widely celebrated today by girls throughout Latin America. The girl celebrating her 15th birthday is a quinceañera (Spanish pronunciation: [kinseaˈɲeɾa]; feminine form of "15-year-old"). In Spanish, and in Latin countries, the term quinceañera is reserved solely for the honoree; in English, primarily in the United States, the term is used to refer to the celebrations and honors surrounding the occasion.
This birthday is celebrated differently from any other as it marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. Historically, in the years prior to their 15th birthdays, girls were taught cooking, weaving, and about childbearing by the elder women in their communities in preparation for their future roles as wives and during the celebration the girl's father would present her to potential suitors.
In the past, parallel customs could be found in the Iberian Peninsula and France. Today, the custom remains strongest in Mexico, its likely country of introduction. However, it is widely celebrated in Spanish speaking countries in the Americas. The grandest parties are comparable to British and US debutante balls. The celebrations themselves vary significantly in different countries; for example, the festivities in some have taken on more religious overtones than in others. Nowadays, the quinceañera is also celebrated by many Latino Americans in the United States, each according to their traditions.
In Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country, a similar celebration is called festa de debutantes, baile de debutante or festa de quinze anos. In the French Caribbean and French Guiana, it is called fête des quinze ans.
Contemporary festivities combine Spanish-Catholic traditions with those of indigenous heritages and add in a few modern twists. For example: In ancient Mexico, the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples had many different ceremonies to mark the passage through the various stages of life. The quinceañera marked a young woman's transition to adulthood, as she was presented, as a virgin, to the community for probable suitors.
In a traditional Mexican quinceañera, young women and men have roles as formal damas and chambelanes, who perform special bends at the celebration, along with the quinceañera herself. There is also a "man of honor" who accompanies the young woman. Potential suitors present gifts to her family to make up a dowry or bridal wealth. Prior to her being given away, the women of the community participate by instructing the quinceañera in her duties and responsibilities, urging her to follow the correct path, by remaining true to her people and their traditions throughout her life.
Changes over the years
The meaning behind the quinceañera has become more refined over time and has been adapted by various Latino cultures in relation to where they are living. In the Southern Cone, the custom was popularized by European immigrants.
In rural societies, girls were considered ready for marriage once they turned 15. In the 20th century, the quinceañera received certain privileges associated with womanhood: permission to attend adult parties, pluck her eyebrows and shave her legs, wear makeup, jewelry and high heels. When this tradition originated, the quinceañera was a small party to celebrate the transition. Friends and family gathered in order to give the girl a chance to mingle with young men. Rich families celebrated quinceañeras with big parties and elaborate dresses. In Latin American countries, wealthy families announced quinceañeras in the newspapers to publicize their extravagant celebrations.
In the 1960s, as more Latinos migrated to the United States, they brought their differing national traditions with them. Once in the United States, formerly poor immigrants with good jobs were able to have big parties like the ones back in their home country. The average cost of a quinceañera around that time was US$400. In 2015, the cost of a modest, traditional quinceañera was estimated as approximately US$500–600. Family and friends often help put on the event, for example, by making food. An elaborate and extravagant quinceañera could cost up to US$12,000+. From a simple food and cake celebration, it has developed among wealthier families to become an occasion for a big party. Families may use event planners, and develop a celebration with a theme, to be staged with a special entrance and dances, and captured by professional photoshoots and video. Modern quinceañera celebrations also incorporate traditions from other cultures. Markets for event planners and quinceañera-related products have developed.
In specific countries
Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay
In Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Uruguay the celebration begins with the arrival of the teenager accompanied by her father, the girl wearing an elaborate, elegant dress she has chosen according to her preferences in colors and style, but still maintaining some aspect of traditional dress. The location, if indoors, commonly has its entrance specially adorned for the occasion. The father and daughter make their entry through this front-door entrance while music plays, and friends and relatives customarily give flowers (usually roses) to the father. After this, the ceremony of the waltz begins, in which the girl first dances with her father—or the father figure—who passes her on to her friends and relatives.
The ball is customarily divided into segments, between which various food dishes are served in order to allow the guests—who are usually close family members and friends—to mingle and enjoy the celebration. The following order of events represents a typical program:
- Entrance, which is usually accompanied by slow songs
- First period of dancing
- Main meal course
- Second period of dancing
- Dessert and video playback of the recorded birthday with her friends
- Surprise dance
- 15-candle ceremony (optional)
- Third period of dancing
- Toast, cake-cutting, and a ritual where each female friend/relative pulls a ribbon out of a bunch. The ribbons all have charms on the ends except for one which has a ring.
- Last period of dancing
Ceremony of the 15 Candles
In this ceremony, the birthday girl hands a candle to each of the 15 people she considers the most influential in her life. She often makes a speech, usually dedicated to each of the people who were 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 represents a special memory, a moment shared with each person whom she invites to join the ritual. She expresses her gratitude to these 15 people, whom she will tell how each helped her.
In Brazil the celebration is called festa de debutantes, baile de debutantes or festa de quinze anos. The following order of events represents a typical program:
- Mass (optional)
- First period of dancing (usually to international music)
- Ceremony with videos about the girl's life, with friends' greeting
- A waltz or some other dance with trans from her family and one boy (either her boyfriend or her best friend. In some cases, the family hires a young male celebrity such as an actor or a singer to participate in the festivity.)
- Second period of dancing (usually to national music)
- Third period of dancing
In Cuba, the party may include a choreographed group dance, in which 14 couples waltz around the quinceañera, who is accompanied by one of the main dancers, a boy of her choice, or her boyfriend. The choreography often includes four or six dancers or escorts called experts, who are allowed to dance around the quinceañera. They are usually inexperienced dancers whose function is to highlight the central couple. The male dancers are also allowed to wear tuxedos in different colors.
Fifteenth-birthday celebrations were very popular in Cuba until the late 1970s. 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 held celebrations that were the 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.
Another tradition, commonly found in Cuba, is to have 14 ladies and 14 escorts (sometimes 7 each) as a court. The escorts hold flowers (usually roses) and the ladies carry candles. As the quinceañera dances the waltz with her father, she blows out one candle, then picks up one rose. This continues until she has blown out all the candles and picked up all the roses. The 14 candles blown out represent her 14 previous years, and with each she makes a wish. When the time comes to cut the cake, the quinceañera will blow out her last candle, thus completing her 15 wishes. The flowers are given to her mother.
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The celebration begins with a Mass in church to receive the blessing of God and give thanks for another year of life. At the birthday party, the birthday girl makes her entrance to the place of the party accompanied by 14 pairs of guests who, together with the teenager's escort, number 15 couples in total. The quinceañera customarily wears a brightly colored dress. Ladies wear long dresses and gentlemen wear suits and ties, which are often brightly colored, but never to overshadow the birthday girl's dress, which is the focal point of the celebration. Almost immediately, the quinceañera birthday girl dances the waltz with her partner; they dance in the middle of the space, and her partner passes her to her father to finish the waltz.
It is customary for the quinceañera and her escorts to perform several choreographed dances, which may include rhythms such as merengue, pop, or salsa. A buffet and drinks are usually served. As the party favors or souvenirs are given to the guests, invited guests sign in an album to record being at the party. The traditional cake of 15 years is featured, which is usually of immense size and beauty, decorated with colorful designs. The cake is cut shortly after the dancing. Traditionally an artist or band participates in the celebration to bring it to life and give a musical touch.
In Colombia, the quince starts with the arrival of the teenage girl, accompanied by her father; she is received by her mother and other relatives and friends; father and daughter dance a waltz and other tunes. The quinceañera birthday girl next dances with her brothers (if any) and their uncles and godparents. Then she performs the pasodoble and the waltz with all members of the procession (then optional dances to other music, such as merengue or pop).
For this occasion the teenager wears an evening dress in light colors or pastels, is dressed and made up slightly, and usually places a tiara in her hair and jewels on her neck and hands. All the guests dress in formal attire, including the teenager's peers.
After the first dance, the teenager and her friends have a dance. Then the festival begins with music from live bands, some famous artists, DJs, food, drink, and at one late point of the night a la hora loca[clarification needed] is carried out, in which the attendants wear masks or funny wigs and make noise with whistles and rattles while fast-tempo music is played. It is optional to make some surprise dance performed by the quinceañera birthday girl (alone or accompanied), and a dance that will give away her friends, cousins, and others.
The custom's social significance is such that even poor families tend to spend lavishly on a daughter's quinceañera. The event can cost as much as a year's wages, and many take up debt to be able to pay for it.
French Guiana and French Caribbean
In Mexico, the quinceañera is adorned with elegant jewelry and makeup. By tradition, this was to be the first time she would wear makeup in public, but in the 21st century, girls start using makeup at an earlier age. The quinceañera is also expected to wear a formal evening dress, traditionally a long, elegant ball gown chosen by the girl and most often, her mother, according to her favorite color and style.
In the Mexican Catholic tradition, the quinceañera celebration begins with a thanksgiving Mass. She arrives at church accompanied by her parents, godparents, and court of honor. The court of honor is a group of her chosen peers consisting of paired-off girls and boys, respectively known as damas (dames) and chambelanes (chamberlains). Typically, the court consists of pairs ranging from 7 to 15 damas and chambelanes. At this religious mass, a Rosary, or sometimes a necklace with a locket or pendant depicting Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, is presented to the teenager by her godparents, the necklace or rosary having been previously blessed by the priest. She is also awarded a tiara, which serves as a reminder that to her loved ones, especially her immediate family, the quinceañera will always be a princess. Some also see it as denoting that she is a "princess" before God and the world. After this, the girl may leave her bouquet of flowers on the altar for the Virgin Mary.
After the thanksgiving mass, guests gather for a celebratory reception where the events to honor the quinceañera will take place, including giving gifts. This reception may be held at the quinceañera's home, at venues (such as dining halls, banquet halls, or casinos), or in some cases, in more public places, similar to a block party. During the reception, the birthday girl usually dances a traditional waltz with her father to a song chosen by both that speaks about the occasion and their relationship. Then her father passes her to the chambelán de honor, her chosen escort, and afterward they continue the dance with the rest of her court of honor. Often this section of the celebration is previously practiced and/or choreographed, often weeks in advance, sometimes even with months of anticipation.
The basic reception has six major parts with dances taking place while a traditional Mexican meal is served:
- The formal entry (La Entrada) – A grand entrance made by the quinceañera once most guests have been seated.
- The formal toast (El Brindis)– An optional but usually featured part of the reception, generally initiated by the parents or godparents of the birthday girl.
- The first dance – Usually a waltz where the girl dances, starting with her father.
- The family dance – Usually a waltz involving just the immediate relatives, the chambelanes, godparents, and the closest friends of the girl.
- The preferred song (Baile Sorpresa) – Any modern song particularly enjoyed by the quinceañera is played and danced.
- The general dance – Also usually a traditional waltz.
Traditionally, Mexican girls could not dance in public until they turned 15, except at school dances or at family events. So the waltz with her chambelanes is choreographed and elaborate to celebrate what was meant to be the quinceañera's first public dance.
Some families may choose to add a ceremonial components to the celebration, depending on local customs. Among them are the ceremony of the Change of Shoes, in which a family member presents the quinceañera with her first pair of high heel shoes; the Crowning ceremony, in which a close relative places a crown on her head; and ceremonia de la ultima muñeca (literally "ceremony of the last doll"), during which her father presents her with a doll usually wearing a dress similar to the quinceañera. The ceremony of the last doll is based on a Maya tradition; it is related to the birthday girl's later giving up of the doll as she grows into womanhood.
Once all symbolic gestures have taken place, the dinner is begun. At this point, the celebration reaches its peak; live musical groups begin playing music, keeping the guests entertained. The music is played while the guests dine, chat, mingle, and dance. The next morning the family and closest friends may also attend a special breakfast, especially if they are staying with the family. Sometimes what is known as a recalentado (re-warming) takes place in which any food not consumed during the event of the night before is warmed again for a brunch type event.
The celebration of a quinceañera party is a strong tradition for the majority of Mexicans, especially among families of rural and low-socioeconomic origins; but it is common for girls of middle- and upper-socioeconomic class to dismiss the tradition as naca ("tacky"). In recent years, many girls, mostly from the Mexico City suburbs, tend to prefer a small party with their close family or friends, and ask for a paid vacation, instead of having their families invest a lot of money on a quinceañera party.
Quinceañeras are growing in popularity in Spain, which sees frequent emigration from the countries of the former Spanish Empire. The demand has grown so much that Spanish event companies now specialize in organizing quinceañera parties for Latin American communities across Spain, where events typically cost thousands of euros and guests number in the hundreds. According to Luisa Sánchez-Rivas, a Spanish sociolinguist who specializes in liminality, the parties are considered especially significant for Latin American immigrants in Spain as a way to protect and preserve their non-Spanish cultural identity. The concept has not caught on among non-immigrant Spanish, although one company in Madrid that specializes in quinceañeras organized one for a girl from a Spanish family.
While in the United States it is more customary to celebrate a sweet sixteen, Puerto Ricans may also celebrate a quinceañera as a sweet sixteen but call it a quinceañera. Quinceañeras were also noted to be celebrated in the mid- to late 1970s in Los Angeles and San Diego and in the early 1980s in different parts of Texas. Though they may not have been widespread, many working-class families could afford quinceañeras because the padrinos and padrones pitch in for the costs. In recent years,[when?] quinceañeras have gained popularity in the United States. Books and other publications about quinceañeras distributed in the United States increasingly include English versions to the original works in Spanish. This shows the increasing influence of Hispanic and Latino culture within the broader American culture. The increasing popularity of the celebration has begun to lead to an uptick in retailers and businesses catering directly to young Hispanic or Latina women.
In Puerto Rico, most people think it is good to celebrate a quinceañera, which typically features:
- Beautiful Entrance
- Any selected music
- Dance with father (And any selected guests)
- Hang out a while
- Cut and eat the cake
- Speech (Optional)
- Thank every family member for being there and in your life (Optional)
- Have a good time
If they want they can also mix in some of the other traditions with this one like with the dancing and the candles. To most Puerto Ricans, you don't celebrate a quinceañera just for the transition from girl to adulthood, but it is so the lucky young girl can have a memorable party with her family and friends to celebrate her special day.
In the 21st century, many girls create their own quinceañera celebrations. Whereas traditional dresses were formal and usually white or pink only, dress designs are now more varied. Also, instead of having the traditional seven damas and seven chambelanes, the quinceañera may pick all damas or all chambelanes. Traditionally, girls were not allowed to dance in public until turning 15, but this taboo has also receded significantly. The ceremony of the Changing of the Shoes has also been modified. Instead of wearing slippers before ceremonially exchanging them for high heels, a girl may decide to wear shoes compatible with the color and style of her dress instead of donning the traditional slippers.
Notable quinceañera-related movies and television episodes
- Wizards of Waverly Place - "Quinceañera"
- Stuck in the Middle - "Stuck In the Quinceaňera", "Stuck In a Fakeout", "Stuck In Harley's Quinceaňera"
- George Lopez - "Bringing Home the Bacon"
- Quiero Mis Quinces
- My Super Sweet 16 - "Janelle", "Alexis", "Stephanie", and "Alana"
- Party Mamas
- Cake Boss
- Sweet 15
- Superstore - S4 E17 "Quinceañera"
- One Day at a Time
- Jack Ryan - S2E2: "Tertiary Optio"
- Top Chef - "Quinceaňera"
- Austin & Ally - "Quinceaňeras & Clubs"
- On My Block - S1 E7 "Chapter Seven"
- The Fosters - S1 E4 "Quinceañera"
- Taina - Quinceañero
- Sweet 15: Quinceañera
- Dora the Explorer - "Daisy, La Quinceañera"
- Handy Manny - S2 E31 "Quinceañera"
- Bar and bat mitzvah
- Cotillion ball
- Las Mañanitas
- Philippine debut
- Sweet sixteen (birthday)
- Rite of passage
- Cug Huê Hng
- U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
- "Quinceanera: History of a Tradition". Archived from the original on 2014-10-29. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
- "The Quinceañera Celebration — The Changing Face of Mexico". www.learnnc.org. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
- Encinias, Shahrazad. "Inside a quinceanera: Family, friends pitch in to help out". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
- Alvarez, Julia (2007). Once Upon a Quinceañera. New York: McGraw Hill. pp. 151–7.
- Härkönen, Heidi. "Girls' 15-Year Birthday Celebration as Cuban Women's Space Outside of the Revolutionary State". Retrieved 2017-10-14.
- Almand, Ray. "A Quinceañera in Quito; Transition into Womanhood And a Big Fiesta for All". Live Well Ecuador. Archived from the original on 2012-06-01. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
- Hielscher, Ines (5 August 2018). "Quinceañera in Kolumbien: Wie eine Hochzeit ohne Bräutigam". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Quinceañera Terms. Archived January 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Beverly Clark Enterprises. 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- Kirk, Gwyn; Okazawa-Rey, Margo (4 February 2009). Women's Lives: Multicultural Perspectives. ISBN 9780073512303.
- Alvarez, Julia (2 August 2007). Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA. ISBN 9781101213407.
- Kessler, Elizabeth Rodriguez; Perrin, Anne (December 2007). Chican@s in the Conversations. ISBN 9780321394170.
- Quinceanera – A simple history. "BellaOnline". 2012. Minerva WebWorks. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "La fiesta latina de los quince años se establece en España". France 24. 27 August 2018. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
- Gosálvez, Patricia (14 February 2017). "'Quinceañera' parties: an inside peek at an emerging trend in Spain". El País. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- Najera-Ramirez, Olga. Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change. Ed. Norma Cantu. (2002). Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Web
- Gonzalez, Marybel (2016-06-04). "The Quinceañera, a Rite of Passage in Transition". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
- Härkönen, Heidi. "Girls' 15-Year Birthday Celebration as Cuban Women's Space Outside of the Revolutionary State", Journal of the Association of Social Anthropologists, July 2011
- Mitchell, Caludia and Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline. Girl Culture: Studying Girl Culture – A Readers' Guide. ABC-CLIO 2008, ISBN 978-0-313-33909-7, pp. 493–496 (online copy, p. 493, at Google Books)
- Stavans, Ilans (ed.) Quinceaņera. ABC-CLIO, 2010, ISBN 978-0-313-35824-1
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