At first, I didn’t want a fiesta, but my mom would not allow it. “My mama had a Quince, I had a Quince, y tu mijita, you will have one too! Trust me, you will thank me later,” she said to me. And so I boarded a plane to Guatemala and took a crash course in all things Catholic; three months later, I was kneeling in front of a padre receiving my blessing. There was a big party, lots of food, and so much dancing! While my quinceañera was probably the best day of my life, I didn’t think it was anything too extravagant. It was inexpensive and simple in comparison to the fiestas celebrated aqui en los Estados. Or so I thought…
My cousin, whom I had grown very close to in my few months while visiting, confided in me: “This has got to be the biggest party we will see around here for a while. No one has ever done something like this here before. Or had a doll like that,” she said pointing to my ultima muñeca. That day, I gave my cousin the doll, but she gave me a wake-up call.
La Tradicion Chapina
In Guatemala, traditional Quinceañeras are a bit different than the ones here, take a look at the schedule:
- The day starts at 5am. Imagine waking up to what sounds like a million gun shots. Don’t worry, those are just the fire crackers your family has ignited right outside your porch.
- They are immediately followed by a much more pleasant, less-frightening, sound. A serenata! A serenade during which mariachis, a marimba group, or family alone will sing Las Mañanitas to the birthday girl.
- There is a long day up ahead, so the familia and the musicos enjoy a big breakfast consisting of café con pan, tamales, etc.
- The cooking and getting ready begins after breakfast, which lasts almost all day.
- It’s not until 7pm when the church rings the bells and the entire town starts heading over to mass. During the mass the girl receives her blessing and reconfirms her faith.
- She is presented as a woman at the reception, where there is a toast and the familiar food and dance celebration happens! The night comes to an end when the guest can eat and dance no more.
Some of the significant differences between a traditional Guatemalan Quinceañera and those in the U.S. are:
- There are no chambelanes. The Quinceañera has 14 damas, preferably ages 1-14, to symbolize the different stages of her life.
- Dresses are pastel pink, baby blue, or Pastel yellow.
- Padrinos are not customary.
- The presentation usually does not consist of the crowning of the birthday girl, the changing of the Zapatillas, or the presentation of the last doll.
Guatemalan Quinceañeras have a traditional structure, they vary depending on many factors – money, heritage, religion, social preferences and, ultimately, the girl.
It is Really About You
In the United States, Quinceañeras, for the most part, seem to have lost their meaning. The more expensive the better, the more scandalous the more memorable. In “Sweet 15” Pamela Colloff of the Texas Monthly writes, “…there has been a cultural shift over the past few decades; in previous generations, families of modest means threw simple quinceañeras or just declined to have them. Now it is common for middle-class and working-class families to throw extravaganzas, relying on a network of relatives and friends to help them foot the bill.”
“I didn’t have one. Mainly because my parents couldn’t afford one. My mom felt so bad because she couldn’t give me a regular one,” says Angela Bonilla, 20.
“I still remember what my father would say when I was 14, ‘Para que? You know people will only gossip about how the food was bad, and the party will end when the borrachos start fighting,'” shares Betty Arreola, 25.
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate your coming of age, chica. Whether you have a “traditional” quince, small party, or a large gathering, the most important part is YOU. Quinceańeras are not a competition; your quince is a day to celebrate you. When the day gets here, enjoy the party, give thanks to your family and friends, but most importantly celebrate it according to your values and your wants. If you do so, it is guaranteed to be a night that you will never forget.