In Latin American countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, many families celebrate the fifteenth birthday of their daughters with a Quinceanera – a “fifteen years” party. It is a major event in the life of a girl, almost as important as her wedding. The Quinceanera takes her from girlhood to womanhood in the eyes of her family, friends and church. Like a wedding, the Quinceanera is steeped in traditions.
Aside from the girl’s parents who have significant roles in the day, she is also accompanied by sponsors or Godparents called madrinas and padrinos. They are typically the people charged with looking after her spiritual well being. She is also surrounded by her court. These are boys (chambelans) and girls (damas) the same age as the young lady. There can be 7 of each, for a total of 15 including the guest of honor or 14 couples who along with the guest of honor and her escort make up 15 couples.
A special service is held at the church the young lady attends. Her court, friends and family attend. Small children will perform several functions. One is to place a special pillow adorned with the girl’s name at the base of the altar for her to kneel upon during the ceremony. They will also strew flower petals along the aisle for her to walk on as she approaches. Their last duty is to hand out small gifts to those who attended the service when it is over.
The girl carries a bouquet which she will leave on the altar when the ceremony is complete. The young lady will enter wearing a headpiece. This will be exchanged by her parents or Godparents for a tiara. She will wear flat-footed slippers for the ceremony. Later at the party, her father will help her step out of the slippers and into her first pair of high heels signifying her entry into womanhood. She may also be given a scepter which symbolizes the passing on of adult responsibilities. Other gifts may be given at the church as well including a Bible, a rosary or a cross – all symbols of her faith.
The Quinceanera party is much like a wedding reception. Once guests are seated, the court is introduced. Finally the newest young woman of the community, the Quinceanera herself makes an entrance. She dances a waltz or other dance with her father and then with her escort or chambelan. Then, her entire court dances along with her.
A toast is given in honor of the young woman. An elaborate cake adorned with figurines of the girl and her court also bears 15 candles. One is lit by the girl and depending on local custom, the rest are either lit by specific members of her family or by friends.
One of the most cherished aspects of the Quinceanera celebration is the dress, a lavish ball gown that can rival many wedding gowns. The dress is usually white but can also be pale pink. It is covered in lace or satin and can be quite extravagant. It does not have a train. The female members of the court are also dressed in gowns and the escorts in tuxedos. Formal attire is expected for parents, sponsors and guests as well.