The fiesta de quince años (also fiesta de quinceañera, quince años and quince) is a celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday. It has its cultural roots in Latin America but is widely celebrated today throughout the Americas. The girl celebrating her 15th birthday is a quinceañera (Spanish pronunciation: [kinseaˈɲeɾa]; feminine form of "fifteen -year-old"). In Spanish, and in Latin American countries, the term quinceañera is reserved solely for the girl. In English, primarily in the United States, the term is used (mostly by non-Latinos) to refer to the celebrations associated with the birthday.
This birthday is celebrated differently from any other as it marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. Historically, in the years prior to their fifteenth birthdays, girls were taught cooking, weaving, and about childbearing by the elder women in their communities in preparation for their future roles as wives.
In Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country, the same celebration is called festa de debutantes, baile de debutante or festa de quinze anos. In the French Caribbean and French Guiana, it is called fête des quinze ans.
The celebration is for Latin American girls (or "Latinas" in the US) who, on turning fifteen are no longer considered children, and are honored and introduced into their community as young women. Contemporary festivities combine Spanish-Catholic traditions with those of Aztec and other indigenous heritages and add in a few modern twists. In ancient Mexico, the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples had many different ceremonies to mark the passage through the various stages of life. The quinceañera marked a young woman's transition to adulthood, as she was presented, as a virgin, to the community for probable suitors.
In a traditional Mexican quinceañera, young women and men have roles as formal damas and chambelanes, who perform special dances at the celebration, along with the Quinceañera herself. There is also a "man of honor" who accompanies the young woman. Potential suitors present gifts to her family to make up a dowry or bridal wealth. Prior to her being given away, the women of the community participate by instructing the Quinceañera in her duties and responsibilities, urging her to follow the correct path, by remaining true to her people and their traditions throughout her life.
Changes over the yearsEdit
The meaning behind the quinceañera has become more refined over time and has been adapted by various Latino cultures in relation to where they are living. In the Southern Cone the custom was popularized by European immigrants.
In rural societies, girls were considered ready for marriage once they turned fifteen. In the 20th century, the quinceañera received certain privileges associated with womanhood: permission to attend adult parties, pluck her eyebrows and shave her legs, wear makeup, jewelry and high heels. When this tradition originated, the quinceañera was a small party to celebrate the transition. Friends and family gathered in order to give the girl a chance to mingle with young men. Rich families celebrated quinceañeras with big parties and elaborate dresses. In Latin American countries, wealthy families announced quinceañeras in the newspapers to publicize their extravagant celebrations.
In the 1960s, as more Latinos migrated to the United States, they brought their differing national traditions with them. Once in the United States, formerly poor immigrants with good jobs were able to have big parties like the ones back in their home country. The average cost of a quinceañera around that time was USD 4,000. In 2015, the cost of a modest, traditional quinceañera was estimated as approximately USD 5,000-6,000. Family and friends often help put on the event, for example, by making food. An elaborate, extravagant quinceañera could cost up to USD 15,000. From a simple food and cake celebration, it has developed among wealthier families to become an occasion for a big party. Families may use event planners, and develop a celebration with a theme, to be staged with a special entrance and dances, and captured by professional photoshoots and video. Modern quinceañera celebrations also incorporate traditions from other cultures. A market for event planners and quinceañera-related products has developed.
In specific countriesEdit
Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay and MexicoEdit
In Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Uruguay the celebration begins with the arrival of the teenager accompanied by her father, the girl wearing an elaborate, elegant dress she has chosen according to her preferences in colors and style, but still maintaining some aspect of traditional dress. The location, if indoors, commonly has its entrance specially adorned for the occasion. The father and daughter make their entry through this front-door entrance while music plays, and friends and relatives customarily give flowers (usually roses) to the father. After this, the ceremony of the waltz begins, in which the girl first dances with her father—or the father figure—who passes her on to her friends and relatives.
The ball is customarily divided into segments, between which various food dishes are served in order to allow the guests—who are usually close family members and friends—to mingle and enjoy the celebration. The following order of events represents a typical program:
- Entrance, which is usually accompanied by slow songs
- First period of dancing
- Main meal course
- Second period of dancing
- Dessert and video playback of the recorded birthday with her friends
- Surprise dance
- 15-candle ceremony (optional)
- Third period of dancing
- Toast, cake-cutting, and a ritual where each female friend/relative pulls a ribbon out of a bunch. The ribbons all have charms on the ends except for one which has a ring.
- Last period of dancing
Ceremony of the 15 CandlesEdit
In this ceremony, the birthday girl hands a candle to each of the fifteen people she considers the most influential in her life. She often makes a speech, usually dedicated to each of the persons given candles. This ceremony is also known as the Tree of Life. The 15 candles symbolize the 15 years the girl has "left behind". Each of the candles represents a special memory, a moment shared with each person whom she invites to join the ritual. She expresses her gratitude to these 15 people, whom she will tell how each helped her.
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In Brazil the celebration is called festa de debutantes, baile de debutantes or festa de quinze anos. The following order of events represents a typical program:
- Mass (optional)
- First period of dancing (usually to international music)
- Ceremony with videos about the girl's life, with friends' greeting
- A waltz or some other dance with men from her family and one boy (either her boyfriend or her best friend. In some cases, the family hires a young male celebrity such as an actor or a singer to participate in the festivity.)
- Second period of dancing (usually to national music)
- Third period of dancing
In Cuba, the party may include a choreographed group dance, in which 14 couples waltz around the quinceañera, who is accompanied by one of the main dancers, a boy of her choice, or her boyfriend. The choreography often includes four or six dancers or escorts called experts, who are allowed to dance around the quinceañera. They are usually inexperienced dancers whose function is to highlight the central couple. The male dancers are also allowed to wear tuxedos in different colors.
Fifteenth-birthday celebrations were very popular in Cuba until the late 1970s. This practice partly entered Cuba via Spain, but the greatest influence was the French. The wealthy families who could afford to rent expensive dining rooms in private clubs or hotels of four and five stars held celebrations that were the precursors of quinceañeras, which they called quinces. These celebrations usually took place in the house of the girl or the more spacious house of a relative.
Another tradition, commonly found in Cuba, is to have 14 ladies (sometimes 7), and 14 escorts (sometimes 7) as a court. The escorts hold flowers (usually roses) and the ladies carry candles. As the quinceañera dances the waltz with her father, she blows out one candle, then picks up one rose. This continues until she has blown out all the candles and picked up all the roses. The 14 candles blown out represent her 14 previous years, and with each she makes a wish. When the time comes to cut the cake, the quinceañera will blow out her last candle, thus completing her 15 wishes. The flowers are given to her mother.
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This celebration is very traditional and commonly celebrated. It begins with a Mass in the Catholic Church to receive the blessing of God and give thanks for another year of life. At the birthday party, the birthday girl makes her entrance to the place of the party accompanied by 14 pairs of guests who, together with the teenager's escort, number 15 couples in total. The quinceañera customarily wears a brightly-colored dress. Ladies wear long dresses and gentlemen wear suits and ties, which are often brightly-colored, but never to overshadow the birthday girl's dress, which is the focal point of the celebration. Almost immediately the quinceañera birthday girl dances the waltz with her partner; they dance in the middle of the space, and her partner passes her to her father to finish the waltz.
It is customary for the quinceañera and her escorts to perform several choreographed dances, which may include rhythms such as merengue, pop, or salsa. A buffet and drinks are usually served. As the party favors or memories are given to the guests, invited guests sign in an album to record being at the party. The traditional cake of fifteen years is featured, which is usually of immense size and beauty, decorated with colorful designs. The cake is cut shortly after the dancing. Traditionally an artist or band participates in the celebration to bring it to life and give a musical touch.
In Colombia, the quince starts with the arrival of the teenage girl, accompanied by her father; she is received by her mother and other relatives and friends. Then father and daughter dance a waltz and other tunes. The quinceañera birthday girl next dances with her brothers (if any) and their uncles and godparents. Then she performs the pasodoble and the waltz with all members of the procession (then optional dances to other music, such as meringue or pop).
For this occasion the teenager wears an evening dress in light colors or pastels, is dressed and made up slightly, and usually places a tiara in her hair and jewels on her neck and hands. All the guests dress in formal attire, including the teenager's peers.
After the first dance, the teenager and her friends have a dance. After that, the festival begins with music from live bands, some famous artists, DJs, food, drink, and at one late point of the night a la hora loca is carried out, in which the attendants wear masks or funny wigs and make noise with whistles and rattles while fast-tempo music is played. It is optional to make some surprise dance performed by the quinceañera birthday girl (alone or accompanied), and also a dance that will give away her friends, cousins, and others.
French Guiana and French CaribbeanEdit
In Mexico the quinceañera is adorned with elegant jewelry and makeup. By tradition, this was to be the first time she would wear makeup in public, but in the 21st century, girls start using makeup at an earlier age. The quinceañera is also expected to wear a formal evening dress, traditionally a long, elegant ball gown chosen by the girl and most often, her mother, according to her favorite color and style.
In the Mexican Catholic tradition, the quinceañera celebration begins with a thanksgiving Mass. She arrives at church accompanied by her parents, godparents, and court of honor. The court of honor is a group of her chosen peers consisting of paired-off girls and boys, respectively known as damas (dames) and chambelanes (chamberlains). Typically, the court consists of pairs ranging from seven to fifteen damas and chambelanes. At this religious mass, a Rosary, or sometimes a necklace with a locket or pendant depicting Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, is presented to the teenager by her godparents, the necklace having been previously blessed by the priest. She is also awarded a tiara, which serves as a reminder that to her loved ones, especially her immediate family, the quinceañera will always be a princess. Some also see it as denoting that she is a "princess" before God and the world. After this, the girl may leave her bouquet of flowers on the altar for the Virgin Mary.
After the thanksgiving mass, guests gather for a celebratory reception where the events to honor the quinceañera will take place, including giving gifts. This reception may be held at the quinceañera’s home, at venues (such as dining halls, banquet halls, or casinos), or in some cases, in more public places, similar to a block party. During the reception, the birthday girl usually dances a traditional waltz with her father to a song chosen by both that speaks about the occasion and their relationship. Then her father passes her to the chambelán de honor, her chosen escort, and afterward they continue the dance with the rest of her court of honor. Often this section of the celebration is previously practiced and/or choreographed, often weeks in advance, sometimes even with months of anticipation.
The basic reception has six major parts with dances taking place while a traditional Mexican meal is served:
- The formal entry - A grand entrance made by the Quinceañera once most guests have been seated.
- The formal toast - An optional but usually featured part of the reception, generally initiated by the parents or godparents of the birthday girl.
- The first dance - Usually a waltz where the girl dances, starting with her father.
- The family dance - Usually a waltz involving just the immediate relatives, the chambelanes, godparents, and the closest friends of the girl.
- The preferred song - Any modern song particularly enjoyed by the Quinceañera is played and danced.
- The general dance - Also usually a traditional waltz.
Traditionally, Mexican girls could not dance in public until they turned fifteen, except at school dances or at family events. So the waltz with her chambelanes is choreographed and elaborate to celebrate what was meant to be the quinceañera’s first public dance.
Once all symbolic gestures have taken place, the dinner is begun. At this point, the celebration reaches its peak; live musical groups begin playing music, keeping the guests entertained. The music is played while the guests dine, chat, mingle, and dance. The next morning the family and closest friends may also attend a special breakfast, especially if they are staying with the family. Sometimes what is known as a recalentado (re-warming) takes place in which any food not consumed during the event of the night before is warmed again for a brunch type event.
The celebration of a quinceañera party is a strong tradition for the majority of Mexicans, especially among families of rural and low socioeconomic origins; but it is common for girls of middle and upper socioeconomic class to dismiss the tradition as "naca" (tacky). In recent years, many girls, mostly from the Mexico City suburbs, tend to prefer a small party with their close family or friends, and ask for a paid vacation, instead of having their families invest a lot of money on a quinceañera party.
While in the United States it is more accustomed to celebrate a sweet sixteen, Quinceañeras were noted to be celebrated in the mid to late 1970s in Los Angeles and San Diego and in the early 1980s in different parts of Texas. Though they may not have been widespread, many working-class families could afford quinceañeras because the padrinos and padrones pitch in for the costs. In recent years quinceañeras have gained popularity in the United States. Books and other publications about quinceañeras distributed in the United States increasingly include English versions to the original works in Spanish. This shows the increasing influence of Hispanic and Latino culture within the broader American culture. The increasing popularity of the celebration has begun to lead to an uptick in retailers and businesses catering directly to young Hispanic or Latino women.
In the 21st century, many girls create their own quinceañera celebrations. Whereas traditional dresses were formal and usually white or pink only, dress designs are now more varied. Also, instead of having the traditional seven damas and seven chambelanes, the Quinceañera may pick all damas or all chambelanes. Traditionally, girls were not allowed to dance in public until turning fifteen, but this taboo has also receded significantly. The ceremony of the Changing of the Shoes has also been modified. Instead of wearing slippers before ceremonially exchanging them for high heels, a girl may decide to wear shoes compatible with the color and style of her dress instead of donning the traditional slippers.
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