When boys and girls reach a certain age, they make a transition from childhood into adulthood. This is also referred to as a “right of passage” which signifies that they are ready to move into the new stage of their life. Depending on culture and religious belief, the right of passage is referred to with a variety of different symbolic meanings.
For Latino families around the world, they refer to the right of passage for Latin girls as a Quinceañera. A Quinceañera is a celebration that signifies a Latin girl’s fifteenth birthday. The name Quinceañera was formed around 1521, after the Spanish conquered the Aztecs. At that time, the Catholic religion was meshed together with the initiation rites of the Aztecs. The Aztecs believed that fifteen marked a time of decision making for young women.
A Quinceañera celebration can either be a small family celebration where the birthday girl wears a special gown and follows the Catholic traditions of her church. Or it can be a very large celebration as elaborate as a wedding celebration. Most Latin families plan the fancier more elaborate Quinceañera celebrations. Planning for the larger celebrations needs to be started at least one year in advance. A lot of the same preparations need to be made as if you were planning a wedding: the church, the date, the hotel for the dance, food, music, flowers, tuxedos and most importantly, the dresses.
The Quinceañera normally chooses 14 close friends to represent each year of her life and she represents the fifteenth. Her fourteen friends are referred to as her damas. Each dama is matched with a young boy who is referred to as their escort. The fourteen girls and fourteen escorts are called the court of honor.
On the day of the Quinceañera, it begins with the religious ceremony in the church. It symbolizes the Quinceañera coming of age. The young woman reaffirms the promise of her religious faith. The Quinceañera changes her shoes from the flat-soled shoes she entered the church with into a pair of high heels. Normally, the high heels are presented to her on a fancy pillow and she changes her shoes at the altar in front of all of her guests. This changing of the shoes signifies her change from childhood into woman hood.
The dance and reception follow. At the dance after the religious ceremony the young woman makes a grand entrance to meet all of her invited guests. The Quinceañera dances with her father first and then with her escort. After this dance starts, her court of honor joins in and then all of her invited guests. At the end of the party, after all of the eating, dancing and celebrating, the guests are given a small token to remind them of the special Quinceañera.
What a wonderful way to celebrate a special time in a young woman’s life as she embarks the journey into her new life as a woman!