While most teenagers dream of their sweet sixteenth birthday, it is a girl’s fifteenth birthday that is most significant in the life of a young Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, South American and Central American. The traditional Quinceanera celebrations are what she sees when she closes her eyes, and it is a very emotional time for the parents. In Puerto Rico the Quinceanera celebrations are still a vital part of Puerto Rican culture and is a joyous and festive event.
It is believed that this magnificent event was first celebrated in the time of the Aztecs and Mayan cultures. After the Spanish invaded South America, they quickly adopted this custom into their Catholic religion. It is therefore one of the oldest customs that has survived the centuries. The celebration takes place on the fifteenth birthday of a girl and symbolizes her transition from childhood to womanhood. As her body is now ready to bear children, she has become of age to marry. In ancient times, the girl was to wed soon after her fifteenth birthday and was taught cleaning, household and child minding duties before the celebration. Today, it merely symbolizes the start of her life as a young adult, her being able to start dating and the beginning of her learning process regarding culture, tradition and religion.
Quinceanera celebrations start off with a religious Mass ceremony. Here, the girl will walk down the isle in her Quinceanera dress, together with her parents, godparents, maids of honor and chamberlains. After the ceremony, the girl will place her bouquet on the altar in honor of the Virgin Mary and her remaining family members will distribute gifts amongst the attendees. A large festive reception is held afterwards for all to enjoy. Music, dance, drink and food fills the night. The most anticipated moment is when the birthday girl opens the dance floor with her chamberlain, after the father daughter dance. Other smaller rituals, such as gifts also accompany the celebrations. Customarily, the Quinceanera will receive a bracelet or ring; a tiara; a cross, medal or necklace; a set of earrings; and a Bible or Prayer Book with a Rosary. Gifts such as a Quinceanera doll, guest registry book, photo album and scepter may vary.
Even though there have been a few changes to the traditions of the Quinceanera, such as the fact that she now has a choice of color for her dress and accessories, most of the rituals and customs have remained the same. Each girl in Puerto Rico looks forward to this event with great anticipation, with the only other celebration that comes close being her wedding day.