Unpacking the Past, Present and Future of the Quinceañera

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Coming of age parties are all the rave in some parts of the country. Television shows like MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 have supersized the age-old tradition adding up to thousands of dollars worth of party. In the United States, Sweet 16 celebrations happen one year later than the Quinceañera. Both events serve as a coming-out party, rite of passage celebrating a young girl’s transition into womanhood. The significance of the occasion may bear weight on some aspects of a young lady’s family and social life.

The Quinceañera is a tradition often connected to Mexico, as well as, Central and South America. It is presumed the custom was brought to Mexico by Spanish conquerors or Aztecs. Many families in Latino communities such as the Carribean, Latin America, and the United States often celebrate a girl’s 15th birthday with a traditional party. A variety of practices take place during a Quince. Some opt to begin the day’s events with a religious mass to be attended by the birthday girl’s family and godparents. Other rituals include a candle ceremony, the changing of the shoes and crowning ceremony symbolizes the transition from girl to woman. Lastly, probably the most popular of customs is getting family and friends together for a reception with music, dancing, food and Quinceanera’s court. The young lady’s court includes a subset of “maids of honor “ (AKA damas) and “Caballeros or chamberlains” (AKA chambelánes). The partygoers are treated to the Father-Daughter dance. The girl is joined by her father or father figure to join in a beautiful waltz or song of choice. Of course, a toast, speech, and cake follow the day or evening events. A big reunion filled with special moments to mark the entrance of the lucky girl into a new phase in her life. It is an event to honor her in every way in an effort to celebrate her life up to now and the changes to come post 15 years of age.

In 2019, we were lucky to give my daughter a coming of age party. As a mother of a teenage young lady, it is increasingly important to keep intact parts of our culture. We consider ourselves American, of Dominican descendancy. Being born and raised in New York, one can easily lose the essence of our cultural identity. Earlier this year, we threw a Sweet 16 celebration for our daughter and incorporated some of the same rituals of a Quinceañera. She chose to omit a court and candle ceremony due to the time constraints connected to the day’s events. Instead, her father and I took part in a crowning and change of shoe ceremony followed by a Father-Daughter dance to the tune of Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl.” It was a highlight in our lives to have the means to throw her a beautiful event without breaking the bank. The intimate celebration was tasteful, elegant and full of memorable moments. The birthday was about making new memories while celebrating old ones. These parties can be mega fancy with a costly tag similar to a small scale wedding. We wanted it to be more about the actual birthday less about the glitz and glamour. Modern-day Quinceañera parties can be taxing on parents because of the social pressures placed on families to spend big. I would say, the celebration should be about putting a spotlight on family, love and all the blessings brought for the past 15 years. Quince should be less about boasting the bling, more about celebrating all the blessings in your child’s life and yours. Enjoy the present and rejoice in gratitude of having the opportunity to commemorate this wonderful time.

Although Quinceañeras have been celebrated for decades not all teens have an expensive birthday. There are kids that choose not to have a celebration. Reasons will vary but sometimes it is a lack of financial resources other instances, it can be as simple as not wanting the duress of a big party. Instead, there are teens that will prefer a trip abroad such as a visit to Paris for the excitement of travel. These types of experiences can be rich in learning about other cultures and how people live in other parts of the globe. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate just different because we don’t all want the same things. 

The future of the Quinceañera continues to evolve as we move into the next decade. Everything about our world is changing, therefore, it is to be expected that the upcoming generation will modernize things. We want to be able to move forward into a future without completely losing our customs. I believe it is possible to preserve parts of the Latino culture without allowing it to disappear. Having a balance of the new and old can help fuse the two sphere’s creating a wonderful mesh to celebrate not hide heritage. The rite of passage is definitely getting trendier with modern touches such as candy bars, photo booths, and celebrity performers adding star power to the event. It is a telltale sign of the evolution of the Quinceañera party we had as teenagers. The up to date Quince has even modified the fashion for the princess for the day. The poofy dresses we used have now been replaced by modern and sassy gowns. The designs will wow guests as much as a bride can on her wedding down. Stunning styles to make sure the birthday girl is the belle of the ball!

Quinceañera celebrations are not on every girl’s must-have list. They can be expensive, stressful and pose a strain on a family’s pocketbook. However, these parties can also serve as a beautiful event to formally announce to friends and family of your daughter’s coming of age. It is essentially an observance that your little girl is entering womanhood. There are rare times during our life cycle when we get to celebrate a life. As parents, we celebrate their birth and each year gets older. The 15th year is the entrance into a phase where they will begin to make choices that strongly impact the rest of their lives. It is the start of letting go piece by piece, as we are well aware they are closing in on the big 18th birthday. This is a celebration of all the wonder they have brought into our lives. Is also the realization they are no longer our babies.