You may be asking yourself this question, even if you’re from a Latino family. I know I was definitely searching the symbolism behind this event many times when we were planning my niece’s quince.
What is a quinceañera and how is it celebrated?
A quinceañera is a special event celebrated within many Latino countries. It has traditionally been the way a community comes together to celebrate the coming-of-age of a young woman.
In a quinceañera, there are generally two big events in one, a church ceremony and a reception. Rite of passage ceremonies happen within both events.
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What does “quinceañera” mean?
The word has two meanings. The literal translation is, “a girl who is fifteen years old.” That term refers to the birthday girl who is turning fifteen years old. The event itself is also called a “quinceañera.”
The celebration goes by other names, too, depending on where you’re from: Mis quinces, quince, mis quince años, fiesta de rosa, sweet fifteen, or even a sweet 16 quinceañera.
What is the significance of a quinceañera?
Check out the books listed below for more details. They mention that back in the day, there was the time when a young girl would make some serious life decisions, such as choosing whether to become a priestess or a wife. (We’re talking real way back, here.)
Then, as European influences made their way around, the celebration became a more social event. This is how the waltz came into practice. In that time, it was also the first time a young girl would dance in public.
The Catholic church reformed the event to be dedicated as a time when girls could reaffirm their commitment to God and contribution to society.
The modern meaning of a quince is a welcoming into adulthood and a dedication to follow a spiritual path with God. The modern version of what you’ll see in a quince today, especially in the States, is more about spirituality and celebration (and less about being ready to have kids). It is very similar to the debutante or a debut which other Spanish-influenced cultures celebrate.
Quinceañeras usually include a variety of rituals such as The Changing of the Shoes, The Coronation, and The Waltz, also known as El Vals. All this change has created even more change, allowing young boys to have their very own quinceañeros. This still isn’t quite as common, but it happens.
My Take: Pop culture, technology, and marketing have all been huge influences on the traditional quinceanera – allowing for a potpourri of meanings and traditions to choose from. That’s excellent news, because it means you and your family can participate in that evolution and decide what a quince will mean to you!
Do you have to be Catholic to celebrate a quinceañera?
Plenty of people who answer the question, “What is a quinceañera,” will have Catholic roots. For Catholics, the ceremonial gifts include items such as the scepter or wand and the Bible and rosary. They’re usually provided in ritual during the church ceremony.
People with other belief systems will generally have a church ceremony and reception, but the ceremonial gifts may differ, if they’re given at all. There also may or may not be a celebration with dancing, depending on the belief system.
My Take: Most of what you will see on popular shows about quinces will be influenced by Catholicism but there are also other denominations that have their own quinceañera traditions and ceremonies.
What is a quinceañera reception like?
They’re so fun!
After the church ceremony, there is generally a reception where there is food and dancing. The reception will also be where several other traditions take place, such as the receiving of The Last Doll or The Changing of the Shoes.
If there is dancing, that will be the biggest part of the event for the night, after the ceremonial rituals. If there isn’t dancing, then the reception will generally be a dinner party with some other fun events included, such as games or performances.
Who goes to a quinceanera?
Anyone can go to a quinceañera, provided they’re on the guest list! The guest list will be up to the birthday girl and her family.
Traditionally, it’s centered around close family, family friends, and other significant people who might have had an impact on the family or the birthday girl.
In the States, this event is filled with family, close family friends, and friends from school. If most of the girl’s family is back home in a Latin country, her family may plan the event there. Or, they may do a small one here and a big one there… or just two big ones.
The meaning of a quinceañera has evolved throughout the years, but there are a few things that remain constant. Family, spirituality, a big festival, and a really fun, sometimes extravagant celebration – these are things that you’ll find at a quince. If you haven’t been to one, my one big suggestion to you is to wear dancing shoes to the reception, even if you think there’s no chance of you getting up to dance.
Salcido, Michele. (1997). Quinceañera!: The essential guide to planning the perfect sweet fifteen celebration. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Co.
King, Elizabeth. (1998). Quinceañera: Celebrating Fifteen. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.