The Quinceanera is a celebration in Hispanic and Latin American families in which young Latinas are symbolically ushered into womanhood. The name of the festival comes from the Spanish words “quince”, meaning fifteen, and “anos,” meaning years. Quinceanera is similar in spirit to an American sweet sixteen celebration, but it has its own set of traditions and requirements.
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Though the Quinceanera ceremony is not a sacrament, it usually is celebrated with a Catholic mass. Many churches require Quinceanera girls to be active parish members who have been baptized and reached their First Communions, as well as being confirmed or preparing for confirmation. Additionally, the church may require a record of attendance in religious classes, as well as participation in preparatory classes.
The Quinceanera dress can be simple and modest in style, or it can be more elaborately designed, in the style of a prom dress. The dress is always a special one, made or bought especially for the Quinceanera celebration, and it is often a pastel shade. In the U.S., white is a popular choice, but in other countries, such as Mexico, white is reserved for brides.
The birthday girl may be accompanied by several other teens. Traditionally, she is escorted to mass by the godfathers and up to 14 maids, who symbolize her first 14 years. Two small children, one girl and one boy, are selected to carry pillows. The little girl carries a heart-shaped pillow on which rests a crown. The little boy carries a pillow bearing the birthday girl’s first pair of high-heeled shoes.
After the mass comes the fiesta and the changing of the Quinceanera girl’s shoes, symbolizing her passage from girlhood to womanhood. The birthday girl’s parents dance with her until they reach a throne. The girl’s mother places a crown on her head, and as she sits on her throne, her father removes her sandals and replaces them with the high heels. The girl’s father leads her out for another dance, often a waltz, and the fiesta continues.
A pinata usually is hung at the Quinceanera fiesta and is the last one the girl will receive for her birthday. Likewise, she will receive her last doll, and she is usually given a surprise gift as well. The godfathers typically gift the birthday girl with items she will use during her ceremony, such as a Bible, a rosary or the crown she will wear. A special ring is another common gift.