History of the Quinceañera as a Rite of Passage

In the Spanish-speaking community, girls are instantly converted into responsible women by the quinceañera celebration. Immediately after the Quinceañera, they are considered eligible for more responsibilities such as work, volunteerism, or marriage.

We all pass through certain stages in life. Even if we are all different, we do share some similarities. We celebrate the birth of a child, first birthday, first marriage and to complete the cirlce of life, we celebrate when you become a parent. As stated in Kalman's book, People celebrate birthdays and reaching adulthood. Each group of people celebrate what is an important custom to them. Some activities may seem "strange" to some of us while yet they envelop best wishes for the special person(s) who serve as the center of attention. (Kalman 1986 p 18)

In Mexico, the fifth birthday celebration for girls is unique. This is the most awaited birthay because it is a Quinceañera. The word quinceañera comes from the Spanish words quince for fifteen, and años which is years. The fifteenth birthday celebrant begins her journey into adulthood (Kalman 1986 p 40).

In some more traditional families in Mexico, the girl is serenaded by a mariachi band in front of her house the night before her 15th birthday. The next day, the girl has a party at her house, guests visit her and dance. Males take turns dancing with the girl and as customary, the first dance is a waltz danced with her father.

Mary Jo Reilly mentions in her book (Cultures of the world) Mexico on page 56 a few paragraphs under lifestyle, rites of passage for childhood and adolescence. The double standard appears and if you are born a female, you are destined to have certain duties/lifestyle. If you are born a male, you are given more independence at an earlier age than the girls. Female children are taught and held responsible for a number of duties. For example, an eight-year-old girl can be seen looking after younger siblings. As long as the girl is single, whether rich or poor, she will remain at her parents' home until marriage. If she does not wed, she ends up taking care of her parents. Women generally married when they were about fifteen years old (Sherrow 1993 p 39).

During the Aztec period, women were treated as second-class citizens, unimportant, and only available for bearing children and obeying their husband. Hence, young females were taught by elder women to learn the skills the girls would need to know for the rest of their lives. Such skills include housework, cooking, and weaving. Most girls married at age sixteen and were considered "experts" in their new position in society. Girls who belonged to wealthy families were sent to either a temple or a school where they would be instructed and trained as priestesses. Young girls married at around age sixteen. It was customary for an older woman to carry the bride on her back while other women lighted the way with torches as they walked over to the groom's house. Then the woman would tie the cloaks together to sybolize the sealing of the marriage. A cloak was a wealth symbol. Cloaks of the poor people were plain while the cloaks of the rich society were lavishly decorated (Odjik 1989, Wood 1992).

Education among the Aztec people was not easy. Perhaps much to our surprise, learning how to dance and play music were vital social skills that a person needed to have (Wood 1992). The Spanish conquered the Aztecs in 1521 and both religious traditions came together. For women, the age of fifteen became a time of decision. Girls had the choice to either devote their life to church or to marry (Lankford 1994 p 12). (It is important to note that the Spanish imposed their religion, Christianity on the Aztecs and destroyed the Aztec religion and lifestyle (Odjik 1989 p 42).

Women are still considered as second-class citizens in Mexico. However, they are the ones who manage best to maintain a family. They pass on their oral traditions to their children. For instance, all of their religious beliefs, legends and customs are shared from one generation to the next (Reilly 1991).

This report has looked briefly at the historical, religious, and societal factors which have contributed to the development of the present-day quinceañeras. The quinceañera is a traditional celebration which continues and which is slowly evolving as a reflection of the concerns of present-day Hispanic culture.

As is true of most aspects of Hispanic culture, there is a serious gap in the amount of published information regarding the topic of quinceañeras. As such, this gap also provides a challenge and an opportunity to contribute needed data. I hope to continue working towards this goal.

Serrato, Ana Maria -- Dec. 8, 1995


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  2. Erevia, Sister Angela. Quinceañera San Antonio, Texas: Mexican American Cultural Center, 1980.

  3. Kalman, B. We celebrate family days. New York: Crabtree Publishing, 1986 p 18, 40.

  4. Lankford, Mary D. Quinceañera a Latina's journey into womanhood. Brookfield, Connecticut: Millbrook Press 1994.

  5. McLane, D. The Cuban-american princess. New York Times Magazine 26 Feb. 1995. p. 42-43.

  6. Matiella, A. C. La Quinceañera. Santa Cruz, CA: Network Publications 1989.

  7. Odijk, P. The Aztecs. New York: Franklin Watts, 1990.

  8. Orlean, S. Old-fashioned girls. The New Yorker 12 Feb. 1990 v. 65 p. 82-88.

  9. Reilly, M. Mexico. New York: Marshall Cavendish 1991 p 56, 60.

  10. Sherrow, V. The Aztec indians. New York: Chelsea House 1993

  11. Wood, T. The Aztecs. USA: Viking Penguin 1992.