The Rich History of Quinceanera

Millennia old, it survives happily today

The history of Quinceanera dates back to the Aztecs around 500 B.C. The word is comprised of two parts: "quince" (fifteen) and "anera" which is a derivative of "anos" (year); and refers to a girl's fifteenth birthday. By age fifteen, boys were expected to become warriors and fulfil their father's expectations. For girls, it was the time in their life when they were presented to the community as young ladies, instead of girls. Fifteen-year-old Aztec girls were considered women and were given the instruction and responsibilities of womanhood and although this is a hugely significant rite of passage, it is also an enormous honor, one that Mexican girls today look forward to with pride and happiness. Every other birthday before and after may come and go without major celebration, but throughout the history of Quinceanera, this event has been full of ritual and tradition.

To celebrate the Quinceanera, the proceedings begin with a Thanksgiving Mass (Misa de Acción de Grácias). The young Quinceanera (the girl whose fifteenth birthday is being commemorated) is accompanied by a head chamberlain (chambelan), other chamberlains, maids of honor (damas), her godparents (padrinos) and of course, her loving mother and father. Everyone is dressed formally and the scene resembles a wedding complete with bridesmaids and the Quinceanera will wear something that stands her above the rest, usually a ball gown and some stunning jewelry. In ancient times, when ball gowns didn't exist, she would still have been attired in a manner that would distinguish her from everyone else.

The Mass is held in the family's church and in the old days, would have been conducted in the community's gathering place. The ceremony is a reaffirmation of the baptismal vows made by her parents.

The history of Quinceanera has passed cultural traditions and dearly held values on through many generations. This includes a special candle ceremony that aims to thank the people in the young girl's life who have been there for her and helped her to develop and grow.

Music has always been a part of life in Spanish and Latino history. It forms the background for any celebration and brings to joyful life, whatever is being honoured. Even in the ancient Aztec times, music would have been the thread that held the entire atmosphere together, and everyone would have danced and sung and prayed along to it. One of the loveliest traditions in the history of Quinceanera is the father/daughter dance, where the proud papa takes his daughter's hand and invites her to share a waltz with him, symbolizing his recognition that she is now a lady and should be treated as such. Not only is the dance a very special moment, but also it provides much entertainment, and perhaps a few happy tears, for those witnessing it.

What used to be a Mexican festival has been adopted by other countries in South America, and the tradition has been carried into the U.S. where as the years go by, the celebrations become grander and richer. It has become the fashion among Latino families to hold a sweet fifteenth for their daughter's coming of age, which is lovely as it brings communities together, just as it did in the old history of Quinceanera.

In the New Millennium, just as five centuries B.C., the Quinceanera is alive and well and is a family day of happiness and memories to cherish forever.

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