A quinceanera is a lavish celebration that has continued the tradition of young girls bidding their childhood farewell and being welcomed into womanhood since the Pre-Colombian era. The origin of quinceaneras dates all the way back to the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs. The name “quinceanera” means “fifteen-year-old” and is reserved for girls.
While various traditions have been abandoned in today’s quinceaneras, the ball gown is a fashion choice that has remained an iconic aspect of these celebrations since the 19th century. This blog will summarize the history of the quinceanera and explain how today quinceaneras differs from ones in the past.
History of the Quinceanera
For more than a century, the quinceanera celebration has been deeply rooted in Mexican culture. During the Pre-Colombian era, young women had a few choices: to become wives, sacrificial maidens, or priestesses (which only applied to the elite class). The reason why young girls celebrated their transition into womanhood at such a young age was that they were at a marriageable age. As they only had an average life expectancy of 30 years, young girls aged 14-16 years old embarked on their adult journeys.
During the Spanish conquest, however, the Spanish created new traditions while combining both Spanish and Mexican traditions. With European conquest comes the influences of culture, fashion, and dance. Maximilian I and Carlota, the emperors who ruled Mexico from 1864-67, introduced the ballroom gowns which were a big part of European couture. This is also when a German ballroom folk dance known as the “vals” became a popular tradition.
By the 1960s, Latinos who migrated to the United States were able to host big parties once they had good jobs. Quinceaneras have become more elaborate by nature since then with its photoshoots, video shoots, huge cakes, and lots of guests.
In today’s society, many girls are able to create their own quinceanera celebrations, which means personalizing every aspect – dress, food, dance, music, guest list, and the ceremony. Traditional dresses were formal and usually pink, but now dress designs have different variations and colors. The style, however, still reflects the regal ballroom gown that was introduced in the 19th century.
In the past, seven chambelanes (boys) and seven damas (girls) were chosen to dance with the quinceanera as the court of honor, but now she may pick all chambelanes or all damas. The Changing of Shoes ceremony is also different. Traditionally, girls were supposed to wear slippers before changing into heels. However, the quinceanera can simply wear shoes that make her comfortable and suit her dress without needing to change from slippers to heels.
Over the years, quinceaneras have evolved and become a more refined celebration. There are still traces of past traditions, and because the celebration is widespread in different countries, there are many different versions of quinceaneras. What remains the same is the rite of passage ceremony – how a young girl becomes a young woman in the community. The day a young girl turns 15 is when she becomes a woman treated like royalty, but it doesn’t have to be the only day!