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Even if you’re from a Latino family, you may be asking yourself if you really know what a quinceañera is. 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 traditionally the way a community comes together to celebrate the coming-of-age of a young woman, at the age of fifteen. 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.

What does “quinceañera” mean?

The word has two meanings. The literal translation is, “a girl who is fifteen years old.” It implies, “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 a sweet sixteen (but with a quince twist).

What is the significance of a quinceañera?

Back in the day, this 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 her commitment to God and contribution to society. Nowadays, 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.

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 for marriage or 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.

 

Do you have to be Catholic to celebrate a quinceañera?

NoPlenty of people who answer the question, “What is a quinceañera,” for you, 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 are given at all. There may or may not be a celebration with dancing, depending on the church’s guidelines.

Most of what you will see on popular TV shows about quinces will be influenced by Catholicism but there are other denominations who have taken the ceremony and adapted it to their own beliefs.

What is a quinceañera reception like?

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 rituals. If there is not 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. 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 change it up and do it there. Or, they may do a small one here and a big one there… or just two big ones. Seriously, this tradition is a pretty big deal.

Conclusion

This rite of passage is a pretty big deal for Latinos. It has evolved throughout the years and the meaning varies for each family, but the overall celebration is a welcoming into adulthood with a blessing for the child’s spiritual path. 

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