My First Quince Años

13 Dec

I had always thought I might barf from disgust if I went to a quince años, but this one was unavoidable. A quince años is a birthday party for a fifteen year old girl, and it’s a really, really huge deal. It’s sort of like an old fashioned “coming out” party- you know, coming out into society, being presented to the world as marriage material- mixed with being princess for a day, mixed with enough ceremony to be its own pagan ritual almost. It’s long, it’s intense, and parts of it are precisely the melodramatic patriarchal moments I envisioned. But I not only refrained from throwing up, parts of it also made me tear up (What can I say? I’m sensitive. Don’t take me to the movies.)

On one hand, I emphatically and voraciously love the idea of celebrating a girl’s coming into womanhood, and a boy’s coming into manhood, for that matter. It’s a crucial, trying, and beautiful part of our lives and we need family and the rest of our close community to stand by us, to teach us, to bring us into the fold. It’s something that’s seriously lacking about US culture (and many other cultures these days). So I love this idea of officially saying goodbye to childhood and it being this giant celebration.

On the other hand, I hate the idea of presenting a girl as marriage material, as if she were a thing being put on offer. Not that it’s exactly saying, “cool, go get married tomorrow,” and definitely not, “you’re ready for sex now” (this is a Catholic country, after all). But that is where it comes from.

According to Wikipedia (not the best source in the world, but I was curious what the interwebs had to say about it), “Quinceañeras originated from Aztec culture around 500 BC. At age fifteen boys became warriors and girls were viewed as mothers of future warriors, marking the age in which a girl became a woman.” While we don’t have Aztec warriors running around, it’s not at all uncommon for teenage girls to become mothers, or to “get married” in the unofficial way of going to live with their boyfriend. Here, if you run off to live at your boyfriends house (called robbing you, which also makes me want to vomit), you’re as good as married as far as society sees it. I certainly don’t think it’s morally wrong or any of that crap. The “problem” of teen pregnancy, for me, is not that you’re a teen who’s sexually active, or even that you’re not “grown up enough” to be a mother (who is?). For me the only problem is that it’s likely to drastically limit your options and your independence and mobility in life, and you are potentially more likely to get trapped in an abusive or otherwise awful relationship.  Becoming a mom in your 20s or 30s has a similar effect, you’ve just had a little more time to maybe get your act (and finances) together. But enough of that diatribe.

Wikipedia goes on to say that with the changes over time, the quinceañera is now a party for girls who “are honored for having maintained their virginity up to this point in their lives.” Ick. It’s 2015 and we’re still all about girls’ virginity? Enough said- you can see why I was hesitant about this whole quinceaños thing.

Down here, I think it’s also acknowledged that it’s the biggest celebration for them that they’ll ever get in their lives. Girls dream about it the way that some girls dream about their weddings. In a way, it’s cooler than a wedding, because it’s just about you. You’re not waiting around for Prince Charming or Mr. Perfect or whomever for your big day. Lots of girls know they might not get a big wedding (or any wedding at all, since when you move in with someone people say that you’re married), so if your family has enough money to give you a quince años party, this is as good as it gets.

Which brings me to my other drama with it: Part of me hates the idea that this is your crowing moment in life. I mean, if somebody told me that life at 15 was as good as it was going to get, I would have been fairly likely to go ahead and slit my wrists. Thank goodness, I wasn’t buying that bill of goods, and my life is leaps and bounds more enjoyable now than when I was 15.

Regardless, this type of celebration is definitely not anything anyone could have talked me into at 15. No, siree. I would have preferred more of a walking-over-hot-coals / vision-quest (preferably with drugs) / let’s-just-sit-around-and-drink-wine-with-my-womenfolk (and plot to change the world while laughing hysterically) kind of coming of age when I was 15 years old. You couldn’t have paid me to act out my goodbye to dolls and get lifted into the air numerous times by 8 teenage boys.

Not everybody gets a quinceaños, even if they haven’t shacked up with someone by then. It’s too outrageously expensive for many folks. But let me tell you about how this one went before I get distracted with more social commentary.

First, everyone got fed: barbacoa, which is like slow-cooked meat in a sauce that’s nothing like barbeque. Some waiting around, and then the elaborate, hours-long ceremony begins. There’s a crowning ceremony that the grandmothers do where they put a tiara on her. There’s a lot of dancing with the special boys called chambelanes. I especially liked one dance where they each bow and give her a rose, she bows and graciously accepts before tossing it aside carelessly for another boys’ rose. There’s a changing of the shoes where her cousin takes off her Chuck Taylors and puts some high heels on her. (I also loved that she wore this crazy princess dress with some Converse for most of the night.) There’s a weird doll dance where they give her her last doll. There was a thing with her dancing in front of a mirror. There were fireworks and confetti galore. A waltz with different family members, similar to the wedding waltz. I loved that at the end, she came back in a mini-skirt and did some fun dancing with one of the boys. And I loved the cake at the end, because her mama makes the best cakes.

15 dance

a princess in all respects

15 dolls

part of the doll ceremony

15 dance2

ceremonial dance with her chambelanes, the boys who dance with her


And I really did almost cry a couple of times. It was sweet and touching to see this lovely girls’ parents publicly acknowledge that their baby isn’t a little girl anymore, even though she’ll always be their baby. The father of the non-bride shed a couple tears during his speech. The quinceañera balled on her mama’s shoulder during their dance. And in this case especially, I know just how much her fabulous mama worked to give this to her daughter. She stayed up all night making the fifteen cakes. She made ALL of the recuerdos by hand- fake flower arrangements made out of mostly recycled material, dolls with green dresses like the one her daughter was wearing, the dolls encased in glass (did I mention the parents are glass makers?). I can’t imagine all the lost sleep and the debt creation that went into this party.

15 mesa

Handmade table decorations that people take home as souvenirs

15 pastel

Fifteen cakes, made by her mama the night before (the best 3 leches cakes ever)

No matter what I would have wanted or not wanted,  I think it was worth it for everyone concerned. Even though the fifteen year old is still a fifteen year old, and had an angsty, pained, and/or self-conscious look on her face half the time- that’s par for the course when you’re 15, even when you’re getting something you desperately wanted. You guys know I’m already planning Lucia’s alternate version to welcome her to womanhood when the time comes. I’m crossing my fingers she won’t want princess dresses and dances with dolls, but no matter what I’ll shed the same bittersweet tears as these parents.

15 my nena

Me and my future 15 year old, all dressed up



2 Responses to “My First Quince Años”

  1. lee1978 December 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    So interesting to read about what a this celebration is like in Mexico. It is huge up here and people literally spend as much as what some people spend on a wedding.

    • exiletomexico December 14, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      I bet this cost more than my wedding! It was so interesting, and lovely, really. I’m so glad I went!

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