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Birthday Traditions: The History and Significance Behind Quinceaneras

The Quinceanera is a rich tradition that dates all the way back to the Aztec culture in 500 B.C. The word Quinceanera refers to a girl's fifteenth birthday, which, in Aztec times, marked the passage of a girl into adulthood. It has a similar meaning as the American tradition of Sweet Sixteen birthdays or Jewish Bat and Bar Mitzvahs.

Quinceanera Mass

Quinceaneras are a formal affair that begin with Mass and end in a fun reception. During Mass, a ceremony takes place that reaffirms the vows a girl's parents took for her during her baptism. The Mass represents thanking God for one's life and blessings, and to affirm one's faith as a Christian woman. The actual Mass proceedings vary from church to church, but are always planned around giving thanks and showing one's faith.


Quinceanera Party

The reception after Mass is a lively, fun celebration with friends and family. The Quinceanera often has a court that is made up of up to fifteen people. Family and friends play specific roles in the Quinceanera, such as:

Head Chamberlain The birthday girl's escort
Other Chamberlains Male friends of family
Damas Maids of Honor (usually close female friends or family)
Padrinos Godparents or Sponsors

The Quinceanera wears a formal ball gown, usually in a white or pink color, and often wears a tiara. The tiara represents the Crown of Life given by Jesus to all of his believers. Other guests are also dressed in very formal attire. In some celebrations, she begins her Quinceanera wearing flats to symbolize girlhood, and her father will bring her high heels to change into as a symbol of becoming a woman.


Quinceanera Gifts

Tiara Representing the Crown of Life
Ring Representing the unending circle of life
Earrings A reminder to listen to the word of God
Cross or Medal Pendant A token to remind her of her faith
Bible or Prayer Book and Rosary Religious resources for her throughout her life


Reception Traditions

Traditionally the reception begins with a first dance between the Quinceanera and her Chamberlain or male family member, and is followed by a touching father-daughter dance. The father-daughter dance symbolizes her father recognizing her new place in the community as a woman. After the first few traditional dances, others are invited to join on the dance floor and the Quinceanera party can be tailored however the birthday girl would like.

Quinceaneras are generally very elaborate parties, rivaled only by weddings. Planning can begin as much as a year in advance, and often the entire community is involved in the celebration. Though it began as an Aztec tradition, it has since been appropriated by many South American countries and continues as a popular Latin American tradition.

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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