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Every culture has events unique to its people, which are then passed down through each generation. In the Spanish culture, there is a distinct coming of age celebration for young women. This festivity, a Quinceañera, is not only a religious event but a rite of passage which takes months of preparation.
This event is not all fiesta, there is a ceremonial aspect in which the honoree reconfirms her faith. Quinceañera is defined as, ‘the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from girlhood to womanhood; the term is also used for the celebrant herself’.
The origin of Quinceañeras is difficult, if not impossible, to trace. However, it is said it began as, ‘a pre-Hispanic Aztec custom that dates from 500 B.C. and was used by priests in the Christianization of the Indians in the same way that other indigenous customs mixed with Catholic religious festivals.’ Over centuries, this Aztec custom accepted changes and slowly merged into what is now known as Quinceañeras, starting by crossing paths with an extravagant ball.
In earlier years, festivities were only held by those who were well off enough to have them. Wealthy Latin Americans carried the tradition of presenting young women to marry promising men in a festivity called ‘debutante balls”. It slowly started to grow in popularity and it soon reached those of lower and middle class where it was accepted as part of their culture. Over the years they modified it to include their customs and way of celebrating. It is reported that by1930 there were Quinces celebrated by Latinos. By the 1970s and 80s, the celebration was the ceremony we have now. By blending both the “debutante balls” and the Aztec rituals, it resulted in a religious coming of age ceremony.
Furthermore, months before the ceremony, both the honoree and the chosen members of the court are required by the church to attend several religious education classes. This is done because when this event was first originating, it was still classified with the process of young ladies being offered up to promising men. The only way the Roman Catholic Church agreed to take part in this event was to require all teen members to understand to religious aspects of the ceremony and to make clear the event was to honor the young lady in front of God, not to push her to please men. Once this is completed, the family can set the date of the misa, or mass, specifically for the Quinceañera. It starts with the entrance of friends and family, followed by the padrinos (sponsors) and then the fourteen members of the court. Lastly, the honoree enters, escorted by her chambelan de honor and/or her parents (Hill and Daniels 146).
It is understandable a celebration of this magnitude and importance requires extensive planning and resources. Since the cost of the items tends to add up rapidly, the family and friends of the celebrant help shoulder some of the expenses. Those who choose or agree to help receive the title of padrinos. Male sponsor are padrinos, and female sponsors are madrinas. Since they take part in such a momentous event, they are usually exceptionally close family friends or blood related family. They are meant to guide the young lady through the next part of her life and start by putting together the ceremony which starts the new phase. The Baptism Godparents are also expected to take part in the event, and they are responsible for the cost of the dress. All other items, which can include the food, cake, shoes, jewelry, music, to name a few, can have padrinos assigned to them (Hill and Daniels 149). The padrinos de honor are those who significantly contribute to the expense of the celebration. They are typically listed in the invitations and the progression at both the ceremony and reception. They are also encouraged to give a toast on the new chapter of life. While the padrinos sponsor some items for the fiesta, there are objects used in the celebration.
There are various specific items used though out the day representing many traditions carried in the Hispanic culture; one of them being the Bible. The quinceañera receives the Bible as a reminder to learn God’s words. Along with it, they accept a book of prayers to continue learning and expanding their faith. To finish it off, the third item is a rosary. This has been accepted as a tool for praying and is gifted to be used along with the other two items (DaVinci. par. 7). Small gifts with a tremendous amount of meaning and symbolism continue to be received by the quinceañera throughout the day.
As young girls, going to a quinceañera resulted in a high anticipation for their own day. Back then, the religious and traditional aspects might not have been understood but they wanted to be a “princess” in a big, pretty dress. A scepter is an item of power generally used by royals. In a quince, the cumpleañera receives this item as a symbol of the power the gains in the religious community. It can also symbolize the responsibility to participate in important rituals and events in the Church. While this object is one of the most symbolic items in the day, it certainly is not the last.
Slightly less significant, something which can be provided by a padrinos are the cojines. These small pillows are used to place the tiara, heels, and scepter. There is also a time during mass where kneeling is required and a cojin is bought specifically for that moment. These are usually bought or made a matching set decorated with lace, ribbon or depending on the family, can be hand-decorated. Not only is the ceremony a traditional event containing many different pieces, the reception afterwards is just as complex.
While the ceremony and reception are memorable, this is an event passed down to many generations. In-between the main events of the day, most families chose to have the event documented in picture form. Quinceañeras vary because of the unique taste of every person. Some are modest in size while others reach the same expense as that of a wedding. The place it takes place can alter from the celebrant’s home or to a dance hall. No matter how grandiose the celebration is, the meaning and tradition, the transition into adulthood, still stands. With modern technology, families now have the option to capture this milestone forever. Professional photographers tend to be a big expense which usually tends to require a padrino. After the ceremony, the honoree and her court members get in a ride of her choice, most choose a limousine, and go to a previously selected place to take pictures. The photographer then takes pictures of the court in addition to have taken the pictures for the invitations, the quinceañera and her family, and continues to capture the special moments on video though out the day. While the honoree and her court finish taking pictures, the guest take this time to mingle and catch up with family.
As family members take the opportunity to relax before the events of the evening, recuerdos (small remembrance gifts) are passed out, usually by a younger cousin. These can be anything like candles, candies, religious items or even small mirrors. They can be engraved with the name of the cumpleañera and the date. These specifically go out to padrinos, court members and family. They are meant to commemorate the day and be a sign of thanks from the quinceañera to those who helped and supported her through her life. Once everyone has gotten a chance to greet each other, the most anticipated time of the day has arrived.
No matter how traditional and supportive family members wish to be, most will attend just for the food. The chosen meal can be expected to be one of a few things. Tamales, fajitas, pozole (a corn and meat stew) are common foods for Hispanic celebrations, without forgetting flour or corn tortillas and a variety of salsas. They can also have some type of sides like rice and beans. Beverages can be aguas frescas (fresh fruit water) or soft drinks. The meal is prepared by a family member, usually the abuelas and tías (grandmas and aunts). Nowadays, however, it is less stressful on the family to have the meal catered. An increasingly popular food is tacos, as they are scrumptious and easy to serve. After the savory meal, the spotlight returns to the quinceañera and her family.
When Baptized, the child is expected to follow her parents and Baptism padrinos’ religious guidance. That is when, ceremoniously, the child is placed before God. At her Quinceañera, her padrinos and parents should have led her to want her vows renewed. While they will still be there to guide her when needed, she is of age to make her own decisions regarding her faith. For this reason, the honoree wears a head piece made of flowers or beads to the mass and later a member of her family makes the change to a tiara. It signifies she is seen as a princess in the eyes of God and represents a change from young girl to lady by accepting the roles in both biological and religious families. In addition to that, the lady is expected to act like one, so a last and final “toy” is given, in remembrance of her childhood.
There is a time in life in which playing with toys in deemed for a younger audience. At this celebration, that fact is accepted and acknowledged. The Quinceañera receives a ‘Last Doll’ from her parents. Most likely, it was her parents who gave her the first one and this eventю
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