My first experience with a quinceañera celebration started with car trouble. I was driving along one day when I realized I had a flat tire. It was an older car and the tire iron that came with the jack was completely useless. It didn’t fit the bolts and because of that I couldn’t get the tire off. I was going to need some help. It was later in the afternoon but not so late that my parents would be home from work so I called a friend of mine to come and help me out. He showed up within a half hour but rather than help me change the wheel he exclaimed, “Hey, get in the car and we’ll be back in a little while. I have to do something at home!” So we ride on back to his house which was just a mile away and I come to see that several of his cousins gathered around the backyard and rehearsing a dance and a waltz. I didn’t know what it was all about so I just sat around and had a Tecate with salt and lime. They went on rehearsing the steps but it was off balance and the coordinator was getting more agitated as the night progressed. Apparently one of the cousins hadn’t shown up and there was a spot that needed to be filled.
And there I was. Sipping on my Tecate.
None of my younger female cousins had yet reached the age of 15 so this was all new to me. I was reluctant at first but the coordinator was really pretty so I relented. The quinceañera was in just four days and we had tonight and the next night to make sure we had all of the steps down. I should also mention that my hesitation to dance in front of a people was due to the fact that I dance about as well as I sing… which is about as well as I play hockey and let me ask you this: Have you ever seen a Mexican play hockey? I didn’t think so.
But in the end everything went off without a hitch and I got my introduction to being part of a quinceañera celebration. This was quite a few years ago and all I really remember from the party was that we went to church beforehand, the quinceañera wore a beautiful white dress, I wore a tuxedo, and there was a whole lot of food and tequila. Needless to say I was missing out on a few things.
I performed in a waltz for the celebration of my friend’s sister’s fifteenth birthday. She has a court, not unlike a homecoming queen, that is there to celebrate wtih her.
This celebration has roots that go back over 2000 years. It is an amalgam of empires from the Aztecs to the Spanish and the French. Most cultures have some sort of coming-of-age celebration. In America we have sweet sixteen celebrations where young ladies get to be the center of attention. Though most popular in the South, we also have cotillion where debutants join society not as a girl but as a young lady. There are also Bar and Bat-Mitzvah celebrations.
These types of occasions are found all over the world. The one most familiar to Latin America began with the Aztecs and their celebration of a young girl becoming a woman. And by becoming a woman they meant that she was ready to start making babies. Once the Spanish got involved they replaced the temples with Catholic churches and made this celebration into a very important crossroads for the young lady- she could choose to be a normal woman and raise a family or she could choose a monastic style of life and become a nun.
The distinction of having the celebration at the age of 15 comes from the French in the late 19th century during an era called Porfiriato, which is their equivalent to the Victorian age in English speaking countries. It is named for Mexican President Porfirio Diaz who had a great admiration of French culture and thus brought over a style of European music called Vals (waltz) and the term Chambelan. Like Cinco de Mayo, the quince años celebration is becoming more popular here in the United States than it is in Latin America. Like any great celebration in Mexico -baptisms, weddings, etc.- these parties are often reflective of the family socio-economic status. Here in the States they are great way for Americanized immigrants to maintain a connection to their Mexican heritage (much like referring everyone you know to this website).
A Quinceañera usually consists of some specific traits. Because the Spanish tied the occasion to the church it is customary that before the party there will be a church service where the young lady reaffirms her faith. It is customary for her to receive gifts reflective of the religious aspect like a Cross, a Rosary, or a Bible. Also, because of the religious aspect, the quinceañera celebration is a big deal for the godparents. Their duty is to the spiritual development and upbringing of the child and the quinceañera celebration is where the child becomes a woman and so celebrates the culmination of the godparent’s duties.
During the event the Quinceañera, which is actually the title of the young lady celebrating her coming-of-age, will wear a white dress, like a wedding dress. Other traditions vary but often represent her father releasing her into the word as a woman. Sometimes she will wear simple flats which her father will replace with heels. She may carry a doll dress just like her, which her father will replace with heels. Or there could be the father/daughter dance where midway he will pass her on to her escort, the Chambelán, while they dance a vals (waltz).
And then, of course, this is followed by food and drink and shots and a big bowl of menudo the next morning.
For those of you wondering what became of my car, my buddy and I returned and were unable to get the wheel off. I came the next day with my dad and a different tire iron and we changed it without incident.