Celebrating a Quinceañera

​The word quinceañera (pronounced keen-sen-YARE-ah) often refers both to a traditional Mexican or Latin American rite of passage (a girl's 15th birthday) and to the girl being celebrated. Quinceañera combines the Spanish words quince (KEEN-say), fifteen, and años (AH-nyos), years. The celebration can be called fiesta de quinceañera or simply mis quince (more common in the Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican traditions).

A quinceañera celebration sometimes begins with a Roman Catholic mass (or church service) giving thanks for the girl making the transition to a young woman. The quinceañera wears a lavish formal gown and carries a matching bouquet. In the weeks prior, she has usually had a professional photography session to capture the elegance of the gown and to immortalize this important year. Many families save for years in preparation for a quince, often spending more than what they would on wedding. The main event is a party with food, dancing, and a band. The young lady often makes a grand entrance as all the guests have been waiting for her arrival.

Other typical components of a fiesta de quinceañera are the selection of fourteen male and female attendants and escorts, called damas and chambelanes, to represent the previous 14 years of life; the quinceañera dancing the first dance with her father; and the quinceañera changing out of flat-soled shoes into her first pair of high-heeled shoes. A doll wearing the replica of the girl’s gown is given a symbol of the last doll/toy. The young woman may be expected to give a speech of recognition and appreciation for her parents and family. Gifts of money are usually given directly to the quinceañera as she goes from table to table thanking her guests for attending.

The history of this rite of passage is similar to the Anglo-American coming out party and debutante season, which was public acknowledgement that a young lady was available to be courted. Some families hold true to this custom and do not allow their daughters to officially date until they are fifteen.

Today many young Latinx UUs do not feel comfortable with this binary gendered custom, yet they would still like to honor the rite of passage in some way. Some of the components here on WorshipWeb are an option for modernizing the tradition to be more inclusive to GLBTQ youth.

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About the Author

Raquel V. Reyes

Raquel V. Reyes is a member of the UU Congregation of Miami, where she's a past worship chair, and a co-organizer of Biscayne Unitarian Church (2012-2014). Her poetry and fiction often focus on identity and place. "Representation matters" is a chorus she chants....

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A Latina girl in a full, formal teal gown, and holding a bouquet of turquoise flowers, shot from above.
A row of young women, visible only from their shoulders to their ankles, in long colorful gowns.