An Invitation to Explore Latin American Culture: The Quinceanera

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For Latino girls, a quinceanera is a special celebration that they look forward to for years. It marks their fifteenth birthday, as well as the important moment when they change from a girl to a woman. Quinceaneras are primarily celebrated among Latino cultures. This includes areas such as Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, and the United States. A quinceanera can be somewhat compared to earlier traditions of debutante or coming out balls. Usually to be a quinceanera, one has to be of Hispanic origin and a virgin when they turn fifteen. In earlier times it was an occasion where the young woman in question had to make a choice between marriage and joining a nunnery. Today, this choice is not required, but the celebration still marks her role as a woman in her family, rather than a child. This comes with additional responsibilities and obligations, as well as privileges such as later curfews, being allowed to date, and wearing make-up and more grown-up clothes.

Quinceaneras have a significant religious aspect to them. They start with a church service, especially if the family is Catholic. There the priest blesses the girl and prayers that usually invoke the Virgin Mary (held as a role model for the celebrant) are recited. Following this, there is a reception. The quinceanera is accompanied by a male partner, along with fourteen other couples (symbolizing her previous fourteen years of life) as her "court". Guests at the reception can be quite numerous. There is a large banquet, as well as a cake which features fifteen candles. The quinceanera usually performs one or several choreographed dances with her court, and then a special dance with her father, before the dance floor opens up to all guests. At one point during the reception, the guests watch as the father removes his daughter's flat-soled shoes and replaces them with high heels to signify her first steps into adulthood. The quinceanera receives a doll (known as the last doll) and throws it into a group of younger girls, in a tradition that is similar to a bride throwing her bouquet). Family participation is a major factor at quinceaneras. Apart from the immediate family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins also help out with the planning and responsibilities. For the event, there may be several "godmothers" and "godfathers" appointed to be in charge of varying aspects. For example, there might be a godmother of the cake, a godfather of the limo, and so on. This serves to show that the entire family forms a network around the young woman of the hour and supports her with their help and blessings.

Quinceaneras are such large celebrations that in terms of expenses and planning, they compare in scale to weddings. The parents typically save for years, and grandparents or godparents may also make sizeable monetary donations. There have been many criticisms that modern quinceaneras promote mass consumerism among young girls, considering the large scale of the events. This can especially be seen when comparing quinceaneras in older and modern times. In older times, it was common for the mother or grandmother to sew the dress, while family members cooked food for the feast. Comparatively, today everything is usually bought. Expenses normally include the dress, a limo, the venue, catering, decorations, gifts, a DJ, the photographer, and much more. Despite this, for many, a quinceanera is a momentous occasion not only for the girl but also for the family. It is a way for them to demonstrate their pride in their daughter. In some areas, especially the United States, Latino girls who have grown up in multi-cultural areas may simply choose to have a small birthday party with a few friends. However, for others who choose to remember and celebrate their roots, a quinceanera is a long-awaited event that forms wonderful memories.