Sweet Sixteen. One of the biggest birthdays in an American girl’s life, up there with 18th, 21st and 50th celebrations. However, for Hispanics, sixteen is nothing compared to fifteen, an age which deserves a large commemoration and festivities called a quinceañera.

A quinceañera is a celebration for latina girls who have reached the age of fifteen and have maintained their virginity, which is an honor that “deserves to be celebrated,” according to quinceanera.com.

Quinceañeras originated from the Aztec culture at around 500 B.C. Fifteen was the age that boys became warriors in Aztec society, and girls were also viewed as important at that age because they could become mothers of future warriors. When a girl turned fifteen that was the age that she became a woman.

Over time, the quinceañera has continued to represent the symbolic change of girl to woman, yet birthing new warriors is not a new woman’s primary occupation anymore. Although boys can also have quinceañeras, they are traditionally for girls and it is unusual, although not unheard of, for a boy to have a “quince.”

Senior Stephanie Sanchez had her quinceañera April 9, 2011, during spring break.

“It turned out great and I’m grateful for having one [although] it was a lot of work,” Sanchez said. “I personally didn’t see this much as [a womanhood] thing, I just really wanted to have the Mexican traditional quince.”

Most quinceañeras begin in a Catholic church with close relatives and friends for mass. Afterwards, pictures are taken of the Quinceañera (the girl who turns fifteen) and her friends.

Junior Jiin Park went to a friend’s quinceañera and enjoyed a new cultural experience.

“I enjoyed it alot,” Park said. “I got to dance with my friends, eat delicious food and [take pictures].”

In a traditional Mexican quinceañera there are damas and chambelanes, the people who do the dances at the quinceañera along with the Quinceañera. The Quinceañera also has a “man of honor,” or accompanying male, to dance with her at her quinceañera. The Quinceañera is sometimes awarded a tiara to be a reminder that she will always be considered a princess by her family.

Quinceañeras can also have different special celebrations depending on the country they are in.

For example, in Argentina and Paraguay they have a special ceremony called “The 15 candles.” In this ceremony, the quinceañeara girl gives fifteen candles to people who she thinks were most influential during her fifteen years of life. Usually, this is then followed by a speech dedicated to the candle receivers. The fifteen candles symbolize the fifteen years of life that the girl has “left behind” and special memories that the birthday girl had with family and friends.

In Cuba, the party includes a choreographed group dance in which fourteen couples waltz around the girl, who is dancing with a boy of her choice. There are four to six dancers called experts who dance around the quinceañeara. These experts are also known as escorts and are actually inexperienced dancers who highlight the central couple. The male dancers sometimes wear tuxedos in different colors for a more vibrant dance number.

In the Dominican Republic the quinceañeara celebration is very common, and it also begins with a mass and then goes to a dance party. After the quinceañeara girl finishes her customary dances, a buffet and drinks are served. The main attraction in the Dominican Republic is an immense cake that is very colorful and delicious which is cut after the dancing ends. Another general rule for quinceañearas is that none of the guests should ever overshadow the quinceañeara by wearing brighter or prettier dresses.

“I really enjoyed having practices with all my dancers and most of all performing three dances at my party,” Sanchez said. “The traditional thing I enjoyed most was having the father-daughter dance with my dad.”

After traditional dances, the rest of the quinceañera is a social event to celebrate the transformation of the Quinceañera. There is an elegant dinner served and many festive decorations. Bands play and people dance as well as socialize, essentially it is a birthday party on a grand scale.

“I’d describe it as a birthday celebration that is way bigger than a ‘Sweet Sixteen,’” Park said. “I believe that Quinceañeras are more serious than just a birthday party because of the time, money and effort that go into the event.”

Sanchez sent out over four hundred invitations to her quinceañera and made a facebook event to invited people.

“There were about nine hundred to one thousand people that day,” Sanchez said. “I enjoyed taking pictures with everyone and dancing and seeing people I hadn’t seen in awhile.”

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