Quinceañeras

 
  A young lady poses in her quinceanera dress in Southern Sonora.  
 

Some general information about the traditional rite of passage for a young Mexican, the quinceañera. While quinceañeras are predominantly celebrated for young women, there are quinceañeras for young men as well.

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At age 15, a young woman celebrates one of the most important birthdays of her life. The tradition, known as a quinceañera (from the Spanish word for fifteen, quince (pronounced keen-say), signifies her passage from a girl to a young woman.

While families will often have a simple dinner or smaller event to celebrate the fifteen-year-old's birthday, due to the wishes of the girl or economic considerations, a traditional quinceañera can be a major celebration, and a major expense.

The festivities start with the religious ceremony of a misa, or Catholic mass, in honor of the young woman. Through the evening, she will be wearing her unique quinceanera dress, made especially for her, and her male attendants will be "dressed to the nines" in formal wear.

After the mass, the party begins. The family will rent a salon de fiestas, a large event hall, where the reception and party will be held. The hall will be decked out in lavish decorations, to include expensive table settings. In Mexico, guests traditionally take the table centerpiece home with them, so there is some strategic seating to make sure one sits close to the decoration, and some people will actually sit at the table with a hand on the centerpiece, to indicate their claim. And they can be extravagant - at one quinceañera I attended, every table had a bottle of Buchanan's scotch at its center.

The entertainment will typically be a live band. In Sonora that means Norteño music, with high-energy bands that include upwards of 20 members playing brass and woodwind instruments (mainly trumpets, clarinets and a tuba), with singers. In addition, dinner will be served, typically a plate with carne asada or barbecua (barbequed beef) along with tortillas, refried beans and rice, and a dessert.

In between the dancing, drinking and partying are rituals that involve the young lady, such as a symbolic taking away of her dolls, to signify that she is no longer a girl.