Our son, Caleb, turns 23 this Sunday. Not the most exciting of ages, for sure. He will likely spend the day in the law library or with his study group preparing for the busy week ahead. Hopefully there will be cake at some point. Caleb preferred small, family parties when he was younger, as opposed to big bashes with lots of friends. We marked some of the most significant birthdays with annoying themes. When he turned sixteen, everyone brought him a Matchbox car to unwrap. (I think he is still mad about that one.) We celebrated his eighteenth with the Stars and Stripes, in honor of his registering with Selective Services and being eligible to vote. At twenty-one he received shot glasses. For the most part, these were quiet affairs, celebrated at home, with the people he was closest to.
So I could not have been more thrilled when our friend, Alfredo, invited us to attend his daughter’s Quinceañera. This was going to be the party of the century! A Quinceañera is a special celebration throughout Latin America (and today in the United States) held in honor of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, similar to a Debutante Ball or Sweet Sixteen, something a boy mom does not get to experience. In Mexico, during Aztec and Mayan times, a young woman was presented to her community for marriage at this age. Today, a Quinceañera commemorates the transition of a girl from her childhood to young womanhood, combining the traditions of ancient cultures and the Catholic Church, minus the being ready to marry part. (Which I am certain Alfredo appreciated.)
The church is where most quince celebrations begin. In a special mass for the young woman, her quince court, parents, padrinos, (godparents), and other family members stand witness as the birthday girl reconfirms her commitment to God and receives a special blessing from the priest. The young woman may wear a tiara at this time, symbolizing her morality. She leaves a bouquet of flowers, a token of her purity, at the alter or near the statue of Mexico’s patron saint, la Virgen de Guadalupe.
After the more private church ceremony, friends and family gathered at the Casino Naval in Guaymas, located on a peninsula in the Sea of Cortez Mind you, this all started about the time I usually get ready to go to bed! From this venue, guests were afforded stunning views of the city, sea, and mountains. But not one of those views compared to the beauty of Esther on her day. She positively glowed in her full length princess dress.
When she was not on the arm of her father, who radiated nothing but pride, she was attended to by her court of damas and chambelanes. The court is selected by the birthday girl and numbers from as many as 28 male and female attendees to as few as one male attendant. The most important role the court plays in the Quinceañera is participation in the Baile Sopresa, a surprise dance, that some courts spend up to six months learning and practicing.
Before there was any dancing, we enjoyed numerous Quinceañera traditions. Esther’s father removed her tennis shoes and replaced them with her first pair of high heels. Alfredo created new traditions for the two of them as well, giving Esther sentimental gifts that reminded him of different times the two shared as she was growing up. For example, as a baby and small child, Esther often woke up at night wanting cereal. This was a bonding time for the two of them, and Alfredo presented Esther with a gift of the same cereal that the pair snacked on late at night.
And then the dancing! Alfredo and Esther enjoyed a father-daughter waltz that brought many to tears. Esther also danced with her mother. If you were not crying after her dance with dad, you were for sure as she danced with mom! Surrounded by her friends on the dance floor, Esther tossed a doll into the group. This tradition symbolizes the moving away from childlike playthings and embracing more grown up pursuits and interests. After a waltz with her padrinos, other family members, and her court, we were treated to the Baile Sopresa. As a klutz with absolutely no musical talent, this alone would have caused me to strongly consider skipping the entire quince, even if there was a princess dress involved! Kudos to the young dancers for their wonderful performance.
At least a hundred tables surrounded a circular dance floor. Each was decorated in Esther’s “colors”. Bowls of totopitos, salsas, and nuts were continuously filled. Treats of vegetables, salchichas, and queso kept us energized as we danced to music provided by Spectrum, a mobile DJ company. Disco lights, big screens, and smoke added to the festive atmosphere. A special toast was made in Ester’s honor and partygoers enjoyed delicious cake that looked almost too pretty to eat.
Toddlers and small children outlasted me! We made our way home around 1:30 in the morning. When we left, there was no sign of the party stopping any time soon. Food and drink continued to flow, dance music pounded from the speakers, friends and family laughed and danced.
It was an honor to have been invited to Esther’s Quinceañera and celebrate with her family and friends. I had done quite a bit of research before the big day, and I am glad I did. It was much more meaningful for me knowing the history of this rite of passage. But the studying in no way prepared me for the magic that unfolded each step of the way. And I could not help feeling a little guilty about the Matchbox prank, especially after experiencing this! Wow! And so many low key birthday parties… Um, maybe 23 will be a big deal after all!
(Photos courtesy of Spectrum Disco Móvil and the Presa Family)