Coming of age is a big deal – especially if you’re an American girl. From bat-mizvahs, to Sweet Sixteens, to Debutants, young American women are celebrated as they pass from childhood into adolescence, a time of greater freedom, personal expression and self-awareness.
These celebrations include friends and families coming together over food, drink and themed rite-of-passage parties with music, dance, decorations and gifts. Perhaps one of the most elaborate coming of age ceremonies is la Quinceanera, a coming of age celebration welcoming young Latina women into adulthood, Hispanic-American culture and society.
La Quinceanera is a Spanish-Catholic tradition mixed with the early Aztec and indigenous cultures of South America. Historically, when a young Latina woman turned fifteen, she was readied for marriage – trained in cooking, cleaning and sewing by village elders. On the day of her Quinceanera, the fifteen-year-old girl was carried to the home of her groom where the two wed in an arranged marriage, signified by the tying together of two capes, one worn by the bride and one by the groom. Throughout her whole lifetime in marriage, the girl, and wife, was expected to uphold the values instilled in her by her mother and female elders to take on the role of la madre: homemaker and caretaker of her children, husband and community.
Today, Quinceaneras have shifted away from their origins in that they celebrate a young woman’s independence instead of conformity to tradition and marriage. And while Quinceaneras still center around religious ritual, in which the young woman in passage is presented at an elaborate Catholic mass to give God thanks for a complete childhood and blessed life, supported and escorted to the altar by friends and family, the modern-day version of this celebration leaves plenty of time in the schedule and money in the budget following mass for fiesta.
And then the fun really begins. Bottles pop, sparklers fly and dance music cues up to bring the modern-day Quinceanera celebration to life. Dancing is a huge part of the celebration, starting with a father-daughter waltz and scaling into group salsa, tango and even choreographed modern dance with everyone invited. Their movement is typically complimented by a spirited mariachi or pop music band playing in the background. The pastel or cake, is also a centerpiece of the celebration – designed to match the young celebrated woman’s Quinceanera dress, which is usually white or a light pastel color and adorned with intricate beads and jewelry.
It’s her turn to be a VIP
Extravagance continues into the visual designs and displays at the Quinceanera celebration, including arranged bright-colored flowers lining the banquet hall, photo shoots of guests and the celebrated young woman and, more than ever, indoor sparklers for a burst of light, excitement and perhaps even a token to the la Quinceanera’s Aztec roots. Sparklers usually surround the Quinceanera cake, stand as centerpieces on dining tables or light the edges of a dance floor and are becoming more and more popular as Quinceanera celebrations continue to become more youth-centric. For anyone planning to use sparklers in Quinceaneras, they’re found affordably online and can be ordered in bulk.
After the party is over, the Quinceanera birthday girl continues to celebrate the start of her new adult life as well as gifts received from her Quinceanera guests. As a celebration, the Quinceanera beautifully ties together a strong cultural and religious heritage with modern-day regard and popularity by Latina youth. It not only draws families and friends together in the celebration of a new member to adult society, but also draws together generations, cultures across borders and a tradition that lives on.