Celebrating My Quinciañera

Kid Reporter gives traditional coming-of-age party her own modern twist.

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word quinciañera is wearing a puffy dress resembling a pastry, making an entrance down fog-engulfed stairs, and dancing arm in arm with your father in public. Oh, yeah, and announcing to the entire world that you are now a woman. The second thing that came to my mind was that this was not for me—at least at first.

For those of you who are not familiar with “quinces,” they are traditional Hispanic celebrations introducing a young woman into society. A quince is a party that typically takes place when the girl in question turns 15 years old. It was not until my grandmother showed me a picture of her own quinciañera that my romanticism got the best of me and I decided to take the plunge.

The image of my grandmother leaving the church, with a white lace mantle framing her face fascinated me. She looked like an image of the Virgin Mary, pure and beautiful. It made me realize for the first time that quinces are more than just parties and tacky dresses. I decided I needed the ceremonial aspect of taking on the duties and responsibilities of an adult. And in doing so, I could create my own tradition—one not quite so puffy.

When I told my mom about my new urge for a 15th birthday party, she almost died laughing. "Yeah, OK, sure, have you seen what you have to wear?" she asked. The typical quince dress consists of millions of sparkles, and skirts so wide it makes you wonder how you will get through a doorway. Oh, and did I mention it is traditional to wear a tiara? No, I thought to myself, my quince will be different.

It was my grandmother who came up with the idea of having a joint party with my male cousin Sebastian. He was turning 15 as well, and the parties would have coincided anyway. And so the preparations began, as did my training in balancing the traditional with the modern, and my American mindset with the Mexican blood flowing in my veins.

Quinciañeras involve many traditions, which vary from country to country. Originally thought to be an Indian ceremony, it was adopted by the Spanish conquerors, who replaced the pagan temple with a Catholic church. This is why it is typical for a quinciañere to have a special mass on the day of her party—and what a party. To an outsider, quinces can easily be mistaken for weddings. The birthday girl even has a court of 14 couples to accompany her during the traditional waltz.

The waltz is a huge part of the quince festivities. The young woman is required to dance in front of everyone she knows, first with her escort (known as a chambelan) and then with her father, brothers, and any other close male relative.

Learning about all of this, plus the little extra ceremonies you can incorporate—such as a choreographed dance with your court, or having your shoes changed to high-heel shoes as a symbol of womanhood—was at times overwhelming. The plan was to have an all-day party with games of volleyball, soccer, and an open pool. In the evening music would be provided by a band consisting of my cousin and his friends.

Now for the most important part: the food! We had sopes (tortillas smeared with bean paste and cheese), corn on the cob with chile and fresh cheese, shrimp stew, and michotes (meat filled packages of amazingness).

The big day came. I spent most of the time in and out of the pool, greeting relatives with wet hugs and kisses. I eventually left the pool (reluctantly) and changed into a surprise dress that my aunt had bought for me. No puffs!

Feeling like a princess in a swishy pink and white sundress, I thoroughly enjoyed my quinciañera meal. Cousin Sebastian spent the day playing volleyball and soccer—something I avoided due to my sad athletic skills.

As night descended, the band began to play a medley of songs. Among them were a couple of tunes from my favorite band the Arctic Monkeys, proving that music really is universal (who would expect a bunch of Mexican teenagers to know an alternative British rock band?). Sebastian was the star of the show, showing off his guitar skills to the crowd.

Finally it was time for me to change once again. I donned a lacey cream dress (still no puffs!) and prepared myself for the last step of my transformation: the waltz. As the music played, I danced with my father surrounded by a ring of aunts, cousins, and grandmothers. One by one my male relatives lined up and I danced with each of them, completing a tradition that has spanned hundreds of years.

"Let them eat cupcakes!" my mother exclaimed as more than 60 cupcakes were carried ceremoniously into the dining room. My little cousins' eyes lit up at the sight of dessert, covered in stars and loopy number 15s. My family cheered and clapped as Sebastian and I tackled the task of blowing out a huge white candle.

The night wound down and goodbyes were said with sticky kisses and loud "Congratulations!" The party was over, with only a few left, hanging on to the last remnants of a lovely night. In bed, as I began to fall asleep it hit me: I am now a woman. I am so happy I decided to embrace this important part of my cultural heritage.

To read more Hispanic Heritage Month stories, click here.

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Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps was a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation that brought news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.