Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
There are many places on the web where one might find out what the traditions of the Quiceañera celebration are as well as the gifts that are commonly given. In this article, I am going to cover the history of the Quiceañera as well as the meanings behind the celebration. The following two parts to this article will cover the gifts and traditions surrounding the Quineañera celebration but my main goal is to dispel many of the misconceptions of the similarities between the ceremony of Quineañera and the various versions of the Debutante ceremony.
Quinceañeras or commonly called Quince Anos is one of the most beloved and precious moments in any young girls life. Looking into the elaborate and exquisite ceremony, one wonders where it all began, what does it all mean and why do Hispanics celebrate Quiceañeras. One the outside of the ceremony it may seem like just a very dressed up version of a coming out party or a Hispanic version of a Sweet Sixteen. However, let’s look behind the fancy dress and beautiful young girl and see the history and cultural value of the Quince anos celebration.
To begin with, let’s go back in time to when and where it all began. Many people living in the United States think that the Quinceañeras party is a fancy version of their sweet sixteen parties or of the traditional coming out parties that are celebrated in Europe. These parties are also called Debutante parties. The word Debutante is a French derived word "debuter," which means "to lead off." You will find the roots of this tradition in England where it was a season as opposed to a “day” per say. The aristocratic families of England as well as all of Europe married within a very limited a tight circle of people. These marriages were made to ensure the continued wealth of families as well as to ensure loyalties, resolve feuds, gain additional wealth to a destitute Male heir and many reasons other than affection. Often with the marriage of these young women, the groom was presented with a rather large dowry, which made these young women “eligible” in the eyes of their peers.
The debutante Season was held from April until July when the aristocratic families came in to town from their country homes and opened their city houses for the social season. During the social season, it was the time when young women who had come of a certain age were presented to society and the hope was that by the end of the season the eligible maiden would have found a husband. After the industrial revolution, many upper middle-income class families were able to participate in the debutante season as the struggling aristocracy realized that they needed to make alliances with the money, wealth and power that the industrial class was coming to hold. Consequently, many industrialist families began participating in the debutante season when they were able to find a sponsor for their daughters. The Season began by presenting the young debutantes to the Court during which the young lady bowed to the Queen-thus the name the St. James Bow. After this ceremony there were parties thrown in honor of the debutantes with each family giving parties in the season until a match was made or the season ended.
The idea of the presentation of young women to society started in this country in 1748 when 59 colonial Philadelphia families held "Dancing Assemblies," the forerunner to the Debutante Ball. The tradition continues today throughout the United States with the majority of balls being held from November through January.
A startling tradition that has the potential for the beginning the tradition of Debutantes existed for over a thousand years. Chaste girls would sell their virginity in the temple of Artemis in Grecian times. The money obtained from this would be given to the temple. However, a Christian emperor in 682 CE outlawed this practice. I have not investigated this topic in-depth but find it interesting and worthy of further inquiry. On that tid-bit of information then let us turn back again to the tradition of Quinceañeras.
On that tid-bit of information then let us turn back again to the tradition of Quinceañeras and find the roots of that tradition as opposed to the tradition of the European counter part. Quiceañeras has its roots buried deeply embedded in Mayan and Aztecan history. In Mayan and Aztecan history, we learn that at the age of about fifteen, young women were considered mature enough to wed and begin a family as well as take on adult responsibilities. Their mothers formally acknowledged this coming to sexual maturity as they were directed in how to fulfill their duties as a wife, to obey the decorum and dictates of society as well as various forms of celebrations that to this day remain elusive to modern man.
In the more elite circles of this society, daughters were sent to a temple to serve or to be educated as a priestess. At either rate, women by this age were considered experts in duties of womanhood or entered into training for the priestess profession, but the entrance into the position of woman was one that was highly regarded and welcomed by all those within their culture. What we do know is that with the invasion of Spaniards and the conquest of South America, the traditions and religions became blended and the traditional Quiceañera as we know it today was born.
The traditional Quinceañera is a celebration of a young Hispanic woman coming to the age where her family acknowledges and celebrates with her that she is now a young woman and no longer a child. Unlike the European counter part, the Quiceañera has more depth than ensuring the continuation of the noble bloodlines and securing family fortunes. No, the Quinceañera celebration is a time of affirming of faith, family traditions, good morals, and preparedness to take on adult roles within the family as well as recognition of her sexual maturity. In the Quinceañera celebration, unlike the debutante party, solely is a time of celebrating the mile stone of a young lady into adulthood and is not a way of presenting her as eligible for marriage where in deals are sealed with a “good” marital agreement.
Through out the many years of invasive education and persuasion by European Societal forces, the tradition of Quinceañera has maintained its place in preserving the traditions of Hispanics through out the Americas and honoring our young women as they are gently ushered into the age of adulthood. Quiceaneras is celebrated through out Latin America in many various forms and styles. It remains the fairy tale dream for many young Hispanic girls, who dream of the day when all their family and friends will join in recognition and celebration of the day that they are held in the bosom of love and softly carried across the threshold of maturity, set down, with their feet firmly planted in the richness of tradition, faith and history.
The traditional gifts given to the Quinceañera have as much meaning as do the differing traditions of the ceremony.