The tradition of the Quinceañera continues to influence popular Mexican youth culture today. Its traditions have been linked to ancient Aztec rites of passage for young women; however, no one knows the exact birth of the Quinceanera, which only adds more to its mythological elements of identity.
One myth revolving around the Aztec tradition explains how around the age of fifteen, young girls were being prepared for marriage. Women in Aztec society were not considered an important part of the functioning society, and often times the education of many young girls was placed in the hands of the elder women of the community. Important tasks and traditions such as weaving, cooking, housekeeping and child rearing were passed down through generations to the next girl of appropriate age. During this time as well, the young girls were taught the modest behaviors of a married women and were expected to change according to tradition. When a girl was then married, it was customary for the elder women to carry her on their back, while lighting the path, to the groom’s house. The bride wore a cape, and when the bride and groom united, the two capes were tied together to signify the marriage bond.
After the conquest different religious and cultural factures began to shape the tradition with a more Christianity focus. Around the same age, young girls then had the option of marrying or committing their life to faith. Often wealthier girls had more of an option between the two, while women in the poor communities were forced to marry for survival.
With such a strong traditional presence within not only Mexican culture but also other Latin American societies, the Quinceañera has become a defining moment for many young girls while playing an ironic role in the lives of others.
Having a Quinceanera fiesta for many girls is a time of celebration, gathering of families and an opportunity to finally gain some independence within a usually strict culture. Or is it? What sort of contemporary influences have affected the idea of the Quinceanera, and how do people really feel about it in present day circumstances?Normally the girls wear Quinceanera dresses or Sweet sixteen dresses.
The idea of having a big, grand and usually outrageously expensive party still attracts many young girls to the whole “mentality” of the Quinceanera gown. Today, families continue to promote the fiesta as a coming of age party for their daughters. However, with the change of social ideas and values, the Quinceanera also takes on different characteristics. In some cases, a new car or trip to Europe is sometimes exchanged for the typical fiesta, for all of these things cost about the same.
For those who do choose the Quinceanera fiesta, large scale preparations–similar to a wedding–are to be expected. Some choose to have damas y chamberlains (female and male friends) to dance with her in the beginning of the dinner portions of the fiesta. The dancing requires weeks of preparation to ensure a perfect performance on the night of. Also, the change of dresses and symbolic gifts play an important role in the ceremony.