In the Latin community, the quinceanera is a significant celebration that honors a girls 15th birthday and her transition into womanhood. The word "Quinceañera" comes from the Spanish word "quince" for fifteen and "años", which means "years". When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in 1521 and both native and catholic traditions came together, the age of 15 became a time of decision for young women. The young quinceañera was required to make a choice: to devote her life to the church or to marry.
Like most celebrations, the extent to which the Quinceañera is celebrated has as much to do with social class and family status as the individual wishes of the birthday girl. But there are some aspects that are common to all Quinceañeras. The Quinceañera has two parts—the mass and the fiesta—and both events are filled with symbolic moments. For the ceremony in the church, the fifteen year old girl most of the times comes with seven to eight young couples, symbolizing the number fifteen. Two little kids are chosen to carry the pillows. The boy carries a pillow with the shoes, her first high heels, and the little girl carries a heart-shaped pillow with the crown.
The most symbolic act during the Quinceañera is the changing of the shoes. The girl’s father switches her shoes, from the flats she arrived in, to the high heels she will leave in. At the fiesta, the father dances with his daughter and then the mother takes her and dances with her until they get to the make-believe throne. The mother puts the crown on her head, and when the girl is sitting, the father comes and takes off her sandals and puts on the high heels and they proceed to dance again.
There are many ways to celebrate a quinceañera. No matter which way you choose to celebrate, the day generally includes almost all of the following common aspects: a religious ceremony, a beautiful dress, a court of young gentlemen to escort her, a large party — formal or informal — lots of family, friends, food, dancing and always a first waltz with her father.