If you’re walking about town, you might be lucky enough witness a quinceañera.  It will be easy to identify – you will see a young woman dressed in a colorful gown with all of the attention on her.

It may be reminiscent of a prom dress but there is no prom.  Rather, it looks like a miniature wedding…but with no groom.

A quinceañera, translated as “15-year-old”, is a celebration of a young woman’s 15th birthday.  It marks her transition from childhood to young womanhood.  We might know these occasions to be called debutante balls.

It’s quite the ensemble.  Accompanying the quinceañera are 14 damas, or maiden attendants that symbolize the past 14 years of her life.

Historically, the father may present suitors to his daughter.  The suitors present gifts to her family as a dowry.  Also, this was a first of many experiences to a young woman – her first appearance in public wearing makeup, her first high heels, her first public dance.  Of course, 21st century Mexico lives in more modern times and no longer follows these traditions.

In the Mexican Catholic tradition, the quinceañera celebration begins with a mass.  She arrives at church accompanied by her parents, godparents and court of honor, a group of her chosen peers paired-off girls and boys.  During the ceremony she may be given a necklace of the Virgin of Guadalupe by her godparents.  She is also given a tiara by her immediate family that serves her as a reminder that the quinceañera will always be a princess.

The reception that follows includes a formal entry, toast and several dances.  There is cake and gifts, much like a typical birthday party.  This is the single most important party for a young woman – with more money spent on this party than her wedding.

Count yourself lucky to witness this special celebration should you encounter it amongst your travels.

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