I Had a Very Low-Key Quinceañera, but Taking Part in This Tradition Made It Worth It!

Elsa Cavazos
Elsa Cavazos

Turning 15 is the dream for many Latinas, and with that dream comes some traditions. You could say a quinceañera is the Latin version of a Sweet Sixteen, but we celebrate it a year before. This festivity is almost as important as a baptism or first communion for many families, as it marks the transition from being a girl to womanhood.

It seems silly to me now to see it this way, since 15 is a pretty young age to consider oneself a woman, but back in the day you'd be married with children by 20. Times have changed, but even so, some traditions have been kept, new ones have emerged, and they will probably continue to be maintained generation to generation.

When I turned 15, I wanted the big party: invite all my friends and family, have the fancy dress, and dance in front of all of my loved ones. But we had recently moved to Texas from Mexico, and choosing between the two places to host the party would be too stressful.

There are many "modern" quinceañeras who prefer going on a trip — it was very popular at my age to travel to Europe or go to Disney World with all your friends. In the end, however, I had a beach get-together and got lots of pesos from my family members.

Nevertheless, there was one tradition my mom decided I would not miss out on: a photo shoot. I think in her mind it was the only way to capture that moment and special year. I had never had a professional photo shoot done before, and I was so excited.

The package included hair and airbrush makeup, and they lent me a quinceañera dress. So, while the big party never happened, the ball gown picture did. I had a lot of fun, and I am glad my mom gave me that. Over the years I have noticed this is one tradition most quinceañeras take part in. Usually the shoot will consist of photos with the big dress as well as other casual shots. Friends and family can also be included.

Another typical tradition is the father-daughter dance. While I did not get to do this, I witnessed many of my friends do it. It is a very sentimental and emotional moment to watch. Afterwards, all the men at the party will take turns dancing with the birthday girl.

Another incorporated tradition is to do a dance on your own or with dance partners to wow your guests. This is one of my favorite parts because you get to see how much the quinceañera actually practiced, and a lot of them deliver!

But to me, the most important tradition is celebrating a mass, and giving thanks for another year of life and getting to such an important age. Many Catholics use this day as an opportunity to be mindful and religiously commemorate the milestone birthday. Usually the quinceañera will have two different bouquets: one for them to hold, and another to give as an offering to the Virgin Mary.

While the way we celebrate our quinceañeras continues to evolve, there will almost always be a mass, a surprise dance or father-daughter dance, and a photo shoot that could make even Hollywood stars jealous.