How much do you know about the lovely tradition of a 15-year-old Latin American girl’s transition into womanhood known as the Quinceanera? Even if you know a good deal, it’s always fun to see what’s new. So we’ve put together a little history on how the Quinceanera—also know as La Fiesta Quinceanera—came to be, how time has left its mark, and where the Quinceanera is today.
Historians believe that the Quinceanera began with the Aztecs. Men trained their sons for battle while mothers prepared their daughters for motherhood. To celebrate the transition from little girls to the next generation of mothers-to-be who would then bring new sons into the tribe, they’d make a grand event of the girls’ 15th birthdays. During those times, 15 was seen as an age fit for motherhood because it’s not unusual for mid-teen girls to have completed puberty by that time.
Symbols of Transition
The original tradition includes symbols—some still incorporated today—that represent the girl’s entrance to womanhood. The ultima muñeca—The Last Doll—represents her childhood days. It was presented to her by her chambelan de honor (her male escort who is usually her same age), and as she took her first dance, she carried the doll in her arms. Soon after, she passed the doll to her younger sister or cousin as a sign that she no longer needed dolls and other toys.
A Two-Part Celebration
Just as in the past, today’s Quinceanera traditionally consists of two parts: the Mass and the fiesta or reception. Each segment is rich with representations of the transition from childhood to womanhood. The splendor of each girl’s 15th birthday celebration is different across the social classes, but what is common among all is the celebration of the Mass. This signifies the girl’s affirmation of service to God as a “daughter of the king.” And to show her new position as “royalty,” she wears a beautiful dress or ball gown.
Corte de Honor
For the grandest Quince celebrations, the celebrant has a royal court with 14 young girls—called damas—and 14 boys—chambelanes—who are paired and dance during the fiesta. During the Mass, members of this Corte de Honor carry and/or present the other symbols of a traditional Quinceanera. One chambelan will carry the pillow with the celebrant’s first pair of high heels while a dama is in charge of carrying a pillow—sometimes heart-shaped—with a crown or tiara. These symbols represent a crossing over into womanhood as the celebrant can now wear high heels and jewelry. The tiara reinforces the princess of God concept.
From Childhood to Young Woman
One of the most symbolic acts of the Quinceanera is the celebrant changing into high heels. During the Mass, she usually wears flats, representing that she is still a child. She then changes into high heels when it’s time for the fiesta, and her father usually assists. After switching into heels, she dances briefly with her mother who then escorts her to a throne and places a tiara on her daughter’s head. Her father then escorts her to the dance floor for their father-daughter dance.
A Grand Gala
The Quinceanera fiesta has almost always been a large party because, as the parents share these milestones with their daughter, they want the entire community to join in and witness their daughter’s transformation. In ancient times, there was a vast difference in the way a girl was treated by the community before and after her Quinceanera. Nowadays, many celebrants just want to have a fancy 15th birthday celebration where they can invite their friends and family to enjoy a party and a delicious feast.
A Once in a Lifetime Celebration
The cost of a Quinceanera with all the trimmings runs anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000. However, for a truly extravagant party, these days it could easily run as high as $15,000. In addition, since modern celebrations have incorporated new changes, there are many ways to make a Quinceanera extraordinary.
Celebrants can now select from different themes for their 15th birthday celebration, and more activities have been added. Sometimes the traditional Corte de honor activities are replaced with photo booths, professional performances, games, and other fun things that all the guests can participate in.
The Last Doll
The traditional symbol of the Last Doll—once handmade of fine fabrics and ceramic or porcelain—is now often a lovely store-bought doll. There are myriad ways to be creative with this option, including having the celebrant’s mother make a dress for the girl’s actual last doll!
Blending Old and New
Here are some ideas to celebrate your Quinceanera a little differently and so set it apart even more from the classic formal celebration:
A brunch Quinceanera makes for a beautiful beginning to the day, particularly an outdoor celebration during springtime. Imagine serving the tasty—and cost-effective!—breakfast foods that people love best along with coffee and hot chocolate. A brunch option can be so affordable that you could have a truly indulgent feast.
The theme for a brunch Quince would also be a bit more casual, so if you don’t relish the idea of formal attire, a morning Mass and fiesta may be an excellent option for you. Your guests, too, can dress less formally. The only downside may be waking up early, but if everyone knows the food will be amazing and the party a lot of fun, don’t worry about your guests’ willingness to make the effort to be with you. Besides, with a morning Quinceanera, you’ll be giving them the rest of the day off!
Movie or TV Theme
Do you ever imagine dressing up as your favorite movie character and having some of the same cool stuff that was in the film? You can also pattern your Quince after a popular TV series like Game of Thrones, or even your favorite cartoon, comic book character, or book.
Performing Charity vs. Hosting a Personal Celebration
Some girls, no matter their age, just don’t relish the thought of being the center of attention. If that’s your style, you don’t need to force yourself to take center stage just because it’s your pivotal 15th birthday. You can celebrate your Quinceanera by doing charity work with an organization supporting children’s welfare or perhaps an orphanage for girls. You can also still have the “grand celebration” that your parents might want by sponsoring a lovely party for the kids you’re working with. That makes them the spotlight instead of you. And what parent wouldn’t be more than proud of a daughter with a heart for giving?
Rather than spending thousands of dollars locally on a large celebration, why not take your family and closest friends on a road trip or a mini-vacation? You could even go somewhere in South America to explore the country of your ancestors! This is an excellent way to honor and connect with your roots. It’s also a very unique way to celebrate your 15th birthday.
One Last Idea: Share the Spotlight with a Friend
You may have other friends or cousins who will be celebrating their Quinceanera close to yours, so why not have a joint party? Your families can split the expenses for the venue and food, and more people can attend and make the event even grander. This is ideal for those with tightly knit families or perhaps childhood friends whose mothers took the same pregnancy exercise classes! It’s a truly easy, special and affordable way to have a grand celebration. Not to mention your moms will be thrilled to have their daughters celebrate their Quinceaneras together!
Fun Fact: Some women celebrate a “Double Quinceanera” on their 30th birthday! This is a great idea if you have a really modest celebration the first time around. Check out Pinterest for some cool ideas that would actually work well for a regular Quinceanera! https://www.pinterest.com/pin/87890630206836060/