A Quinceanera (the term refers both to the celebration and to the girl who has turned 15) is similar in concept to a debutante's "coming out party" in other countries. The celebration is a means of acknowledging that a young woman has reached sexual maturity and is now an adult, ready to assume additional family and social responsibilities.
In addition, the celebration is intended to reaffirm religious faith, good morals, and the virtues of traditional family values.
On the night before her 15th birthday, the girl about to be honored is serenaded by a mariachi band in front of her house. The Quinceanera ceremony usually takes place the following Saturday.
The Quinceanera celebration has all of the grandeur of a large church wedding, and begins with the Misa de accion de gracias (thanksgiving Mass). The girl being honored ("quinceanera") arrives in church dressed in a fancy full-length gown, usually white or pale pink in color, together with a matching headdress and an elaborate bouquet. She is
accompanied by her parents, godparents and members of her "Court", consisting of several young women called damas (maids of honor) and several young men called chamberlains (escorts).
At the conclusion of the mass, the quinceanera places her bouquet on the altar and the girl's family and friends pass out small commemorative favors to the guests in attendance. All then proceed to a banquet hall for a festive dinner and dance reception.
After a sumptuous feast, the music and dancing begins. The first dances a waltz danced with the quinceanera and her father. Next, members other Court are introduced and then the godparents have their first dance. The dance floor is then opened for all guests, with men taking turns dancing with the quinceanera. It is customary for the quinceanera
to receive the following traditional gifts for her ceremony, each of which have a special symbolic meaning:
TIARA (symbolizing that the girl is a princess before God)
BRACELET (symbolizing the unending circle of life)
EARRINGS (reminder to listen to Gods word)
CROSS, BIBLE & ROSARY (representing religious faith)
During the reception, there is a "crowning ceremony" where a parent or godparent replaces the headpiece worn by the quinceanera with the tiara. A scepter (emblem of authority and responsibility) is also presented other, in recognition of her passage into adulthood.
At the reception, there is a customary toast to the quinceanera, and the guests offer her their congratulations and best wishes. This is followed by the cutting of a multi-tiered birthday cake decorated in a color matching the quinceanera's gown.
The celebration culminates with the festejada, a dance to a traditional waltz by the quinceanera with one of her chamberlains (escorts).