One of the many, but most celebrated rites of passage in the Latin American tradition is the Quinceanera. Often thought of in conjunction with the Spanish party of the same name, it is a traditional Hispanic Catholic celebration. It celebrates the movement of a young girl into womanhood at the age of 15. In Spanish, quince is 15, which is where the tradition gets its name.
Like many rites of passage in any culture, the Quinceanera is largely religious. Generally, the young woman, dressed in a gorgeous dress, stands before God and thanks him for her life up to that time. She is presented, at that time, as no longer being a child, but rather a young woman who is ready for the added responsibilities of adulthood.
Thought the Spanish party often gets all of the attention, but the Quinceanera is much more than that leading up to the festivities. Many rites of passage are about going from childhood to adulthood, and like those, the Quinceanera requires dedication and instruction. In most cases in preparation for the ceremony, the young woman and her family is given religious instruction by a priest. This instruction is designed so that the young lady knows what the event is really all about. It is not just about rites of passage, but it is also about a chance for the young woman to show gratitude to God for the gifts she has received in her life to that point.
Once the ceremony is over, however, the party does begin. Most rites of passage have such parties that are filled with tradition. The Quinceanera is no different. The "chambelanes y damas" is one such tradition where male and female dancers pair up for a special traditional dance during which the honored young woman gets a special dance with her father. Another tradition of this Spanish party is the gifts given the guest of honor by her parents. Traditionally, the mother and father will give their daughter her first pair of baby shoes and a baby doll. These gifts signify that she is leaving her girlhood behind and entering her life as an adult.
The Quinceanera is not entirely unlike a wedding. The dances, the religious overtones, and the parent child relationship are highlighted in both. Like in a wedding, the Quinceanera also entails a great deal of planning. In many cases, the family will plan for months to get the religious ceremony and after-party set up. Like many rites of passage, it is not considered by the Catholic Church to be a sacrament, but many families do consider it sacramental and a solemn ceremony. Again, this is not entirely unlike a wedding.
Many traditions and cultures have rites of passage for young men and women. Most are steeped in religious ceremony and tradition. The Jewish, Muslim, and Chinese cultures all have versions for young boys, girls or both. However, the Quinceanera is one that is becoming increasingly popular with the growing Latino population in the United States. While it is best known for the Spanish party, the real tradition and transformation takes place beforehand. It is then, that before her family and God, a girl becomes a woman, thanks her maker for her first 15 years, and embraces the responsibilities of her future.