A Quinceañera , also know as a fiesta de quinceañera, is the celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday. It has its roots in Mexico and Latin America. As these groups have emigrated to the United States in larger numbers, the celebration has followed them here. This birthday is celebrated differently from any other as it marks the symbolic transition from childhood to young womanhood. Like its Jewish counterpart of a bat/bar mitzvah, the ceremony has varying degrees of religious significance.
The planning for the quinceañera starts 6 to 18 months in advance. The ceremony and venue determine the date of the event. The parents of the girl who is going to celebrate the quinceañera will look for sponsors (or padrinos—personal sidenote: Been there, done this. hard on the pocketbook; big on the ego/social prominence boost) to help them manage the expenses associated with the event. After securing the venue for the reception and the church for the ceremony, a musical group (El grupo) and a photographer must also be reserved. In New York there are boutiques that specialize in renting the chamberlains for the event. Most cities with large Hispanic populations have the choice of several locations to purchase all the items which go with the event.
By far the biggest expense associated with the event are the purchases of the dresses for the event. Not only for the 14 pairs of female and male escorts(damas and chambelanes ) but also the multiple dresses for the celebrant. `The girl who is turning fifteen wears a bridal-like dress for the religious ceremony at the church then changes for the fiesta that follows. When the word “changes” is used here, multiple dresses are being discussed. Many celebrants will go through two or three dresses over the course of an evening. The average cost of the dresses alone can range from a minimum of $250 each up to $1500 or more a piece. Throw in the outfits for the male escorts and jewelry accessories for the female escorts as well as the celebrant, and serious money is being talked about.
The quinceañera has grown from a simple religious ceremony marking a rite of passage for a young girl to a costly fashion show where friends and family often end up competing to put on the most spectacular event in a bid for social prominence.