Quinceañeras are celebrations in hispanic cultures when a girl becomes a woman at quince años, or fifteen years old. Marcea had a quinceañera of her own, in which I participated as a dama. She explained the traditions of of the quince and what it meant to her.
This tradition has gone back hundreds of years, and is this Hispanic equivalent of a Sweet 16 in American culture.
The participants of a quince have unique names and functions. The girl being celebrated is named the Quinceañera. Her court is a group of damas (girls) and chambelanes (boys). The court is usually made up of fourteen damas and fifteen chambelanes. Altogether there are fifteen couples, symbolizing her age. Marcea’s court had less couples, instead they had six. This is a group of the Quinceañera’s friends and family members, generally under the age of 20. Some members of the court can be very young, not even gone through puberty yet. Marcea said that the demographic for courts skews younger, partly because the Quinceañera’s closest friends and family are usually around her age. She made the parallel to bridesmaids and groomsmen, which are generally the same age as the bride and groom. In a quince, the court symbolizes youthfulness and the process of maturation. They help to present the Quinceañera to the world.
The Quinceañera’s godparents, aunts and uncles are called padriños and padriñas who act as donors and contribute to the celebration. Padrinos and padrinas are also present at Hispanic weddings. The donors are the individuals that will guide the Quinceañera in her adult life. It is not an official declaration of future involvement in the Quinceañera’s life; however, as it is usually the family who guides the girl, it is usually the family who act as padrino and padrina. Since hispanic families tend to be large, this can cover a large price of the celebration. Sometimes there is just one, sometimes there is a couple for every aspect of the celebration. Typically, a couple will sponsor one aspect of the quince. For example, one aunt and uncle will pay for the limousine, another for the cake, so on and so forth. There is a special dance for these couples during the celebration. Marcea herself didn’t have any padrinos or padrinas for her quince. She appreciates the advice her family gives her throughout her life, but there was no formal representation of this in her celebration.
There are traditionally two parts to each quince- a church ceremony which lasts about an hour and a party which can last of hours afterwards. As a large portion of the Hispanic population is involved with the Catholic Church, the religious ceremony is a large part of most quinces. Marcea did not have a church ceremony as part of her quince, because she hadn’t had her communion yet, so the priest would not bless her. However, Marcea was able to describe the process to me. Usually, parents, godparents and the court are part of the church ceremony. They give the Quinceañera her gifts- rosaries, a tiara and a bouquet that is left on the alter of the Virgin Mary to pay tribute. It is a time of thanksgiving for life and womanhood.
Usually court arrives to the party in a limousine, often sponsored by a padrino and padrina. There is generally a large room with a dance floor and a dj, giving the guests plenty of opportunity to dance, which Marcea says her family loves to do, as well as providing space for the traditional dances that will take place. In addition there is a slideshow featuring the Quinceañera playing in the background.
During the party, one of the traditions is the changing of the shoe. Marcea described this as “ a pretty popular tradition that people usually keep,” emphasizing its importance within the celebration. At the beginning of the night, the Quinceañera wears flats. Her dad changes her shoes from flats to heels, symbolizing her development from a little girl into a woman. Marcea prepared beforehand and marked with a marker the hole that her dad had to use to fasten the shoe, revealing the weight of the moment and her desire for nothing to go wrong. Afterwards, the father and daughter dance together. At this time, her father is supposed to recognize her as a mature woman. Marcea identified this time as one of the most emotional for the men of the family.
Then the father hands his daughter to her chambelane, a sign of his respect for her maturity. The dance proceeds, with the Quinceañera and her court. Marcea isn’t aware of any symbolism in the courts dances, besides entertainment and fun. Courts tend to take dance lessons for a year to a year and a half before the quince. Marcea and her court took dance lessons for about four months beforehand. There is a formal dance, which was the waltz for Marcea’s quince, and the baile sorpresa, which included cumbia, hip hop and the hustle. The songs we danced to were by Rihanna, Selena and Chris Brown. Usually the baile sorpresa is salsa or cumbia; however, Marcea’s quince had a mixture of diverse dances.
Although Marcea didn’t participate in this tradition, at some quinces the Quinceañera is given the responsibilities of a woman within the celebration itself. She is responsible for speeches, cake cutting and even service. While watching videos online to brainstorm for dress ideas, Marcea saw girls serving their padrinos.
The dress is usually white, symbolizing purity at the coming of age. Recently girls have been wearing pastel colored dresses. They are usually large ballgowns. There are never trains on these dresses, because the style is reserved for weddings.
The whole event is centered around the Quinceañera. It symbolizes the transition from a girl to a woman, with all the responsibilities it entails. There are many aspects of the event which I was not able to include, as it is a vast celebration. The tradition is documented in the award-winning film Quinceañera, which juxtaposes the purity and extravagance of the celebration with pregnancy, poverty and the trials of everyday life.