I can still remember my Quinceañera like it was yesterday … the anticipation and the excitement towards the whole event. A lot of preparation occurred many, many months beforehand, as we needed to define big things such as the date of the event, the venue, the church, the number the guests, the menu to be served, the flowers, the invitation style, etc.
The Quinceañera is a very well-established rite of passage in many parts of Latin America. This is especially true of Mexico, as in ancient times, in pre-Hispanic cultures, women were considered ready to marry at age 15. In other words, it symbolized the transition from girl to woman and was an opportunity for parents to present their daughter to society.
Here is what happens at a Quinceañera
1. The Ceremony
Normally, the celebration begins by going to mass at a Catholic Church, and just like in a wedding, parents, godparents, and the birthday girl have a special place in mass. We give thanks for all the blessings received and pray.
After mass, it’s time to go to the reception venue to start the party!
2. The Party
When everything is ready at the venue and most of the guests have arrived, the birthday girl will enter the room accompanied by her parents. She then stays at the center of the stage and will dance with her father and/or with some other important men in her life. This could include brothers, grandparents, uncles, or cousins. Many times, she will dance “el baile de la rosa,” (the rose dance) and each important man in the “quinceañeras” life gives her a rose when they arrive to the stage. They dance with her, and then they leave, escorted by the mother of the “quinceañera,” or another important woman in her life.
The birthday girl will also have “damas” and “chambelanes” (friends or family) that she chooses to have by her side (similar to a bridal party). The group will rehearse a choreographed dance ahead of time, and perform it at the Quinceanera. Tradition calls for 14 damas and 14 chambelanes (plus your escort). So, in total, there are 15 women and 15 men on the stage dancing (although it’s totally fine if you have fewer people). I personally didn’t follow this tradition, as I was living in the States and did not have time to rehearse beforehand, so you can definitely skip it altogether.
After all of this, the less serious part of the party begins, and people start dancing in groups (kind of like a teen disco party). All of the music is provided by a D.J.
The size of the party and the amount of money spent on a Quinceañera varies greatly. It can be as large or as small as you want (some are very intimate, while some are with more than 500 guests, which in Mexico we consider like a small wedding).
3. The Food
For dinner, the adults normally have a three-course meal while the teens have finger food.
4. Personal Touches
There are a lot of fun options for a Quinceañera. You can choose to have a party with a theme, such as Casino Night, a night in Paris, Hollywood action, and more! You can have a special/famous D.J. come to your party, special lights, dessert tables, arrive at the party in a limo, change clothes, and many more things.
My sisters and I all had a “fiesta de XV años,” and now that I have three daughters myself, I hope to keep this tradition alive. But, as we say in Mexico, when we have one or more girls (as a joke), you need to start saving now to not break the bank once your daughters turn 15.
In my opinion, more than a rite of passage, a Quinceañera is about keeping our traditions alive and celebrating with friends and family! Nowadays, in our society, I can certainly say hardly anyone gets married when they are 15 (or are even thinking about it). For me, a 15th birthday party is having the opportunity to get together with your loved ones to celebrate life, and to be thankful for the blessings that you have received!