The traditions of Quinceañeras may vary from family to family and from region to region but for the most part the core of the traditions are the same. The size of the event will depend naturally on the financial capacity of the Quinceañera’s family, but for the most part the root traditions still remain the same through out all regions as well as social classes.
The beginning of the Quinceañera begins not with the festivities, as many believe but in the preparation of the upcoming event. In some families, the planning begins up to two years in advance of the actual day. During the preparation time, much dreaming and planning takes place with many friends and more importantly family members involved. There is much work to be done and many details to be worked on. Of course, today there are many items available for purchase to relieve much of the work that used to go into preparing for such an event but then the originality and time with family is lost with the lightening of the burden that goes with preparing a handcrafted event. From planning menus to choosing an area for the celebration hours of time are dedicated and spent to ensure that the Quinceañera has the day of her dreams.
The key components of the traditional Quinceañera celebration are as follows. The dress. Ah, the dress of the Quinceañera is one of the most stunning details and traditionally is white signifying her purity. Pale pink is also a very common and favorite color. The dress is similar to a wedding dress in its grandeur yet no train is placed upon a Quinceañera dress but all of the splendor and beauty is there. Much like a ball gown and covered in fine lace and satiny material, the dress of the Quinceañera makes her appear to float as if an angel upon a cloud.
The Quinceañera begins the celebration with a mass service (Misa de acción de gracias) where she is be accompanied by her full court, consisting of 14 damas, 14 chambelans, as well as her personal chambelan (escort) for the evening. During the mass, there are children who act to place the pillow she will kneel upon at the altar, sprinkle flowers in her path as she makes her way to the altar. At the end of the ceremony the children pass out bolos or small gifts to those who attended the mass as the Quinceañera places her bouquet upon the altar of the for the Virgin Maria.
A headpiece is worn during the Mass. Her parents or Godparents exchange the headpiece with a tiara or crown and she is handed a scepter as well during the mass of thanksgiving. The headpiece symbolizes a princess before god and the scepter is used to symbolize the passing on of adult responsibilities and a sign of the corresponding authority. At the mass, the Quinceañera may be also gifted with a cross, a bible and a Rosario symbolizing her faith. The quinceañera’s Cross or Medal is often given to Signify faith in God, in herself, and in the world.
The Quinceañera’s Bible is given as an important resource used to keep the word of God in the life of the quinceañera.
Once the mass has ended, the party moves over to the party, usually held in a reception hall. All of the guests are seated, and while the guests are seated, the Quinceañera makes a secret entrance and is hidden behind a curtain or stage. Once all of the guests have arrived and they are all seated, the court of the Quinceañera is introduced and the Quinceañera makes a much-anticipated entrance. The dance of the Quinceañera commences with a Waltz with her father followed by her chambelan.
There is usually a toast in honor of the Quinceañera where all in attendance have the opportunity to wish her well and make a toast. The cake is a masterpiece by any standards and usually is ornately decorated with miniature statues of the Quinceañera and her full court. The cake is usually multi-tiered and beautifully decorated. The ceremony of lighting the fifteen candles upon her cake takes place in different places according to the region. In South Florida, the lighting commonly takes place at the party where as in other regions it seems to vary, sometimes in the church but other times at the party. The common manner for the ceremony in when held in the church is for the Quinceañera to take the candle of her light and light her parents candles, which they in turn use to light the candles of their parents and so on. More commonly now, as society has us starting families later and with families spread out so thinly over large areas, the candle lighting ceremony takes place during the party. During the party 15 guests, usually family members or very close friends of the family are called up to light the candles and a specially prepared dedication is said for each of the named guests.
When the Quinceañera enters the festivities, she enters wearing flat shoes. These shoes are worn during the misa de accion de gracias and to the party. At her entrance to the party, and in South Florida her blessing, the young girl’s father changes her shoes from flat shoes to high heals, symbolizing her changing into a woman and she leaves wearing those shoes. At this point, she is often gifted with a pair of earrings to serve as a reminder to listen to the word of God and the world around her. It also serves to remind her to hear and respond to the happenings in her life. A ring or bracelet is given symbolizing the never-ending circle of life, the unending stages of womanhood and the ability to make future contributions. There are also bolos or gifts set out on the tables, usually ceramicas, are souvenirs of the occasion for all the guests who attended the celebration. Finally, a porcelain doll is present, usually wearing a matching dress to that of the Quinceañera. Covering the doll are ribbons with the name and date of the Quinceañera. Towards the end of the celebration, the Quinceañera walks around, passes out the ribbons and personally thanks each of the guests who attended her Quinceañera celebration. This usually draws an end to the formal celebration of the Quinceañera, having begun the day as a child and ending the day affirmed in her newly acknowledged position of young woman, loved and adored by all who see her, but none as much as the family who gracefully brought her to this day.