What is a quinceañera?
Learn about quinceañera traditions and the history of the celebration
Quinceañera is the Spanish word for a girl who is 15 years old. Among Latinos in the United States, quinceañera also is the name given to the coming-of-age celebration on a girl’s 15th birthday.
The quinceañera has its origins many centuries ago when both boys and girls participated in rites of passage. To prepare for womanhood, girls were separated from other children at a certain age so the elder women could teach them about their future roles as members of family and community. During the official rites of passage, the community would thank the gods for the future wives and mothers, and the young women would vow to serve the community.
Later, missionaries turned the event into a personal affirmation of faith by the young women and a pledge to become good Christian wives and mothers. A church celebration became an important part of the occasion.
Today, the quinceañera celebration often is a lavish party that may include a mariachi band, a feast and many guests—much like a wedding. Planning for a quinceañera can start as early as the birth of a daughter. The family and godparents save up money until the girl is of age. Actual preparations may take anywhere from six months to a year and a half. Dances have to be learned, decorations decided upon, cakes ordered, and in some cases, dresses made.
The young woman wears an elaborate dress in pastel or, more recently, bold colors. Traditions vary, but they may include:
- Receiving a church blessing
- Having 14 male and female attendants and escorts, called damas and chambelanes, to represent the previous 14 years of life
- Presenting a porcelain doll to a younger sister to symbolize leaving childhood behind, or receiving a final doll from her godparents
- Changing from flats into high-heeled shoes to represent becoming a young woman
- Dancing the first dance with her father
- The word quinceañera is derived from the Spanish words quince for 15 and años for years.
- The quinceañera is one of the few universal Latin American occasions, celebrated from Mexico to Argentina.
- Although the tradition is evolving with U.S. Latinas, quinceañeras remain very common among second- and third-generation Hispanic girls.