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Dating back to ancient Aztec traditions, the Quinceañera represents the a girl's passage into womanhood. This has evolved into a significant religious and social event primarily in Catholic Hispanic and Latin American communities around the world.

This rite of passage often begins the night before a girl's fifteenth birthday, with a traditional mariachi serenade outside her house. The next day, the girl will put on a beautiful dress, almost like a wedding gown, with gloves, flat shoes, a tiara or veil and a bouquet of flowers. This dress is traditionally white or pink, but in recent years this has also begun to change to other pastel colours.

Relatives and friends bring gifts and musicians play and sing Las Mañanitas (a traditional birthday song) before everyone heads to the church for a special mass. Fourteen couples walk down the aisle, each representing one year of the girl's life. The girl is then escorted down the aisle by her parents. The mass is full of special presentations, speeches and gifts. The girl will present her bouquet to the Virgin Mary, then end with a traditional speech.

After mass comes the party - and it's a party like no other! There is food, drinks, dancing, and all kinds of traditional music and modern music as well. Traditional foods served are mole (a kind of stew), rice, chicken or turkey, tamales, and a large cake. The first dance is traditionally a waltz between father and daughter. He then escorts her to her chambelan, her special chosen boy - often a boyfriend - and they will share the next dance. Damas (eligible girls) and chambelans will dance together, and this represents the girls transition to dating. If the young woman has a younger sister, she may present her younger sister with a doll, representing that she has entered the next stage of her life and is leaving childhood to her sister. Her father will also change her flat shoes into shoes with heels, symbolic of his acceptance that she is now a young lady.

Quinceañeras are expensive affairs, even more so in the United States with costs rising into the thousands of dollars, but usually the cost is shared among the many relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) who donate items, time and money to the party effort. It is considered an honour to help with the Quinceañera party.

The Quinceañera is more than just another birthday - it's a symbolic rite of passage indicating a girls change to the inevitibility of adulthood, with all the rights and responsibilities she will now share.


Sources:
Ana's Quinceañera Page - http://clnet.ucr.edu/research/folklore/quinceaneras/
Coming of Age - http://gomexico.about.com/library/weekly/aa991212a.htm
Mexican Tradition - Quinceañera - http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/dpalfrey/dpquince.html
My many Hispanic friends

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