The word quinceañera actually means “15-year-old girl” in Spanish. However, it is also known in Latin America as the celebration of a girl who is coming of age at 15 years old. This is when a girl is considered ready for marriage and, more importantly, the time when she becomes a woman expected to do great things in the future. It is thus a very important point of any little girl’s life. As such, many preparations are made in order to make every quinceañera as memorable for the girl and her family as possible.

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But a deeper understanding of what goes on at the quinceañera involves knowing the most important parts of the tradition. Let’s take a look at each one:

1. The Ceremony

Like most Catholic celebrations, the quinceañera is usually opened with a thanksgiving Mass. The birthday girl will have a procession (like at a wedding), with ladies and escorts as well as her parents (for a total of 15 people) accompanying her. Her godparents will also be there. The Mass will proceed as usual, but with important members handpicked by the girl to choose the readings as well as the Gospel and the homily. Afterwards, she will recite her vows to the Virgin Mary and God before being bestowed with gifts by her godparents and loved ones. The priest will then finally bless the quinceañera, marking the beginning of the long celebration that follows.

2. The Father’s Dance

Perhaps one of the most remarkable parts of the celebration is what most people know as the father-daughter dance. This part of the quinceañera may seem to be just a dance between father and daughter, but it’s actually a ceremonial handing over of the father to one of the daughter’s escorts. Once done, the maidens and the other escorts start dancing as well. It’s important to note that the song for the dance is usually chosen by the father, who will select a song that’s significant to both of them. The fact that the father gets the first dance with the girl signifies his role as the first important man in her life.

3. The Waltz

After the first dance with the father, the quinceañera will proceed to perform a choreographed dance number with her court, composed of maids and escorts. This performance is usually practiced by the participants weeks or even months before the celebration to make sure that everything is perfect.

It is, however, no longer accurate to describe this phase as the waltz, as that form of dance may be considered too formal or serious in this day and age. In fact, the quinceañera will often choose a kind of dance that she and her court are more likely to enjoy performing.

4. The Quinceañera’s Gown

Just like the bride at her own wedding, the quinceañera will select a gown that she will wear for the celebration. With the goal of making her stand out from the crowd and making her the centerpiece of the celebration, the quinceañera will usually don a dress that’s similar to what is worn by princesses – made of silk or taffeta, composed of layers, and usually all pink or white. Nowadays, other pastel colors are considered as well. Traditionally, the quinceañera should observe modesty in the gown she chooses, but that may not always be the case today. This is also the same dress the quinceañera will be wearing during the morning Mass.

5. Food

What’s a celebration without food? Like all grand celebrations, the quinceañera also has a feast to satisfy the guests who have come to celebrate the girl’s coming of age. The preparation of the food, its selection, as well as the oversight thereof is usually done by the girl’s family and friends, as the quinceañera herself will have other things to attend to.

Luckily, most families looking to celebrate quinceañera today no longer have to handle the food themselves. With parties becoming more and more lavish and guest lists growing longer, the demand for caterers has risen and they are now often relied upon to prepare food for everyone during the event.

6. Changing Shoes

Apparently, heels are a sign of womanhood, which is why the changing of the celebrant’s shoes is an essential part of her quinceañera. The parents are tasked with removing their daughter’s shoes and putting on her a pair of heels. This is also likely to be her first pair of heeled shoes. The wearing of heels is said to be a symbol of taking responsibility and, consequently, of growing up. It is by wearing these shoes that the girl takes a literal step toward being a full-fledged woman with her very own dreams and ambitions to pursue.

7. Toast

This is the time when the parents offer a toast to their daughter, highlighting her achievements. This is also when the parents impart a special message, acknowledging her accomplishments as a girl so far. It’s also a way for the guests to get to know the celebrant better.

8. Sponsors

On the guest list are the quinceañera’s godparents. These are the people who previously committed to helping care for the child as she grew up, making them part of the family. These individuals are often well off and capable of sharing some of their resources to help make the quinceañera a success.

9. Fifteen Candles

During this phase, the quinceañera will choose 15 of the most important people in her life, who will take part in a ceremony where each of them offers a tribute – a song, a message, or something that helps them express their pride and affection for the celebrant.

10. The Crowning of the Quinceañera and Gifts

Finally, a tiara and scepter are often bestowed upon the quinceañera as gifts – the ultimate symbol of her maturity. This is often followed by the giving of more gifts by friends and other family members.

Indeed, the quinceañera is a very important moment in a girl’s life. Not only is it significant in her culture and religion, it is also a way for her to know that society, along with her family, has acknowledged that she is ready to become a woman.