Quinceañera Traditions and History

July 28, 2019  - by 

Quinceañeras mark a young woman’s transition from childhood to adulthood and often feature lively music, dancing, and food. These and other quinceañera traditions are celebrated on a young woman’s 15th birthday. The word quinceañera can refer to either the party itself or the young woman celebrating her birthday.

Quinceañera History

A quinceañera  with her mother

In early Mesoamerican and Spanish societies, quinceañeras marked a girl’s passage from childhood to becoming ready for marriage.

Girls were taught traditional homemaking skills, such as weaving and cooking, to prepare for marriage and children. When a young woman turned 15 years old, a celebration marked the occasion when she was considered an adult and was introduced into society in hopes of finding a husband.

Traditionally, the quinceañera was also the time when a young woman was given her first real jewelry, including a tiara, and officially allowed to wear make-up, dance in public, and make decisions.

As time passed, the focus shifted from finding a husband to celebrating the passage from childhood to adulthood. And the ways of marking this event are changing from a traditional religious celebration to requests for a smaller party, a vacation, a cruise, or even a new car.

Regardless of how the quinceañera is celebrated, formally or informally, it is a special occasion to be remembered and carried on as a link to cultural heritage.

Quinceañera Traditions

A quinceañera with her family

Though quinceañera traditions can vary from family to family, one of the most iconic aspects of the celebration is the pampering with hair styling, manicures, and photos taken in a formal evening gown. The dress is usually in the young woman’s favorite color and style and can be a traditional dress from her ancestral region.

Quinceañeras were traditionally separated into two parts: the Mass and the fiesta.

Mass

Many quinceañeras begin with a special Mass with her parents, godparents, and court of honor (damas and chambelanes, usually 7 to 15 pairs of her friends and peers) in attendance.

At this Mass, the girl receives Holy Communion and commits herself to God and the Virgin Mary. She might also bring a bouquet of flowers or other gifts to give to Virgin Mary (presenting the gift at the Church’s statue of Mary). Before the Mass ends, the priest will bless the quinceañera.

Although Mass was traditionally part of quinceañeras, some might choose to forgo this event and focus primarily on the party.

Fiesta

A girl dances with her father on her quinceañera

After the Mass, the party often begins with traditional dances and music. Some of the dances require months of practice and usually start with a father and daughter waltz, followed by a dance with the family and chambelanes, traditional waltzes, and includes modern dances and music chosen by the birthday girl.

In addition to the dances, there are gifts, dinner, cake, decorations, photos and slide shows, and music for the guests to enjoy as they visit together.

Sometimes local customs are included, such as the ceremony of the Change of Shoes, where the young woman is given her first pair of high-heeled shoes. There may also be a crowning ceremony, where a close relative places a crown or tiara on the young woman’s head, reminding her that she is a princess before God and the world.

Some observe a Mayan tradition, ceremonia de la ultima muñeca (ceremony of the last doll) where her father presents the quinceañera with a doll wearing a dress similar to her own dress.

Preserving Quinceañera Memories

However your family has celebrated this milestone, be sure to record the memory of your quinceañera and other momentous occasions on FamilySearch’s memory app.

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  1. My wife of 44 years is Mexican. I live now in her native village, Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla. My first visit to Mexico was in 1983 for our daughter’s Quinceañera in Mexico City. We try to keep some silver jewelry on hand because from time to time we are invited to a Quinceañera. Some years ago, one of my English students was turning 15, and I knew her parents couldn’t afford the whole expensive thing. So, on her birthday, I gave her a symbolic doll as mentioned here, and a book. She told me recently she still has both things.