It's a birthday like no other.
15 candles for a young Hispanic girl signifies a right of passage into womanhood. A gala is usually referred to as “quince” short for quinceañera (pronounced keen-say-ah-NYAIR-ah).
The rich with tradition celebration showcases the quinceañera, the actual birthday girl.
The event dominates in the Latin community as a must-make venue; many quinceañera's have a strong social component attached to the program.
There is a renewed sense on the part of Hispanic Ministry leadership in the Archdiocese of North Carolina to highlight the true essence of this rite and prepare the young people involved in a quinceañera, as well as their family members and friends for this special day.
Mostly all of the guests are Spanish-speaking, but many quinceañera celebrations are becoming more diverse. A newer generation of quinceanera's are showing signs of fusing long-standing Latin traditions with mainstream American values and friendships.
In many cases, a quinceañera is similar to a 'sweet sixteen' with the exception of strong religious overtones that dominate the 15-year-old's special day.
As of July, 2007, the Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a document entitled “Order for the Blessing of the Fifteenth Birthday,” which clearly situates the presentation of the young woman after Communion and before the final blessing, when the quinceañera is celebrated during mass. This change was made to give a clear message to the faithful that the blessing of a quinceañera is just that and not to be confused with an actual sacrament of the Catholic Church.
It is interesting to note that this rite of passage blessing is not just for young women any more, nor are all quinceañera's of the Catholic faith. Nationally, there are a significant number of young men who also wish to give thanks for the gift of their lives and make a commitment to follow Christ, say church officials.
After the mass, a social celebration stretches well into the evening.
“The sky is the limit on how much is spent. There is no average price range that can be tied down on a quinceañera. On the cheap, it can run from a few thousand dollars. The middle range can average anywhere from $5 to $15 thousand. Some quinceañera's have topped hundreds of thousands,” said Frank Garcia a member of the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“The pont is, Hispanic dollars and what quinceañera events deliver to an economy can't be underestimated,” said Garcia.
Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing market segments in the U.S too. Over 40 million U.S. Hispanics have a buying power of over $900 billion, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, based in McLean, Va.
In Surry County and according to the U.S. Census data, over 7,000 Hispanics reside in the county; 3,300 are female.
Records show that only 167 Hispanics of the 3,300 fell into the age 15 to 17 bracket.
However, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Hispanic girls aged 10 to 14 in Surry County will surpass 500 children within the next five years.
“That potential pool opens up the door for businesses who recognize the intricacies surrounding a quinceañera,” said Garcia.
It is unknown how many quinceañera celebrations are held annually in Surry County.
Like a bride, the quinceañera showcases an elaborate dress. Decades ago, informal mom-and-pop 'household' operations would design or modify bridal dresses to meet the vision of the quinceañera. Nowadays, outlets catering to the specific 'princess-style' dresses compete against national bridal outlets.
Even Disney has taken a stab at the quinceañera market.
For example, Disney Consumer Products unveiled the Disney Royal Ball collection in 2013, a line of Quinceañera gowns inspired by the inner qualities, personalities and stories of the Disney Princess characters.
According to Ashdon Inc. who collaborated with Disney designs, the new gowns combine classical styling with elements of fantasy and magic to bring an air of royalty and fairy tale to young women celebrating their quinceañera.
Hundreds, to well over a thousand dollars can easily be spent on the dress alone.
Toss in invitations, a hair stylist, the shoes, an elaborate cake, food, a DJ, a videographer, a professional photographer, lodging for guests, and transportation costs.
A more affordable location in Surry County known for quinceañera-related products is Carolina Western Wear located at 825 Rockford St. in Mount Airy. It's proprietor, Alma Rico Bautisto, otherwise known as the “La Reina” of the quinceañera, is widely considered a 'motherly-type' expert to local Hispanics seeking to coordinate an event and not skip a beat.
“The last five years for the entire state of North Carolina has seen a rise in business attributed to Hispanics preparing for a quinceañera,” said Bsutisto. “For us, we were used to seeing a quinceañera here and there, but now they're happening all the time, many times competing on the same date.”
Regardless of economics, the celebration varies significantly across countries, with gala's in some countries taking on, for example, more religious overtones than in others.
In Brazil, the celebration is called festa de debutantes, baile de debutantes or festa de quinze anos. In the French Caribbean and French Guiana, it is called fete des quinze ans.
In Argentina and Paraguay, the celebration (which is never referred to as a quince, but as a fiesta de quince) begins with the arrival of the teenager, wearing a special dress, and generally accompanied by her father. The father and daughter duo make their entry through this front-door entrance at the sound of music, while friends and relatives customarily give the father flowers (usually roses).
In Cuba, the party may include a choreographed group dance, in which 14 couples waltz around the quinceanera, who is accompanied by one of the main dancers, a boy of her choice, her boyfriend would be common. The choreography often includes four or six dancers or escorts called experts, who are allowed to dance around the quinceañera. They are usually inexperienced dancers whose function is to highlight the central couple. The male dancers are also allowed to wear tuxedos in different colors.
Fifteenth birthday celebrations were very popular in Cuba until the late 70s. This practice partly entered Cuba via Spain, but the greatest influence was the French. The celebrations usually took place in the house of the girl or the more spacious house of a relative.
In the Dominican Republic, the celebration is very traditional and common. It begins with a mass in the Catholic Church to receive the blessing of God and give thanks for another year of life. At the birthday party, the birthday girl makes her entrance to the place of the party accompanied by 14 additional pairs of guests, which together with the teenager's own are 15 pairs of people total. Usually, she wears a bright color dress and the other couples wear long dresses for the ladies and suits and ties for the gentlemen which are often brightly colored. They are never to overshadow the birthday girl's dress which is the main focal point of the celebration.
In Mexico, a common type of quince showcased locally, the birthday girl is adorned with elegant makeup. Traditionally, this would be the first time she was to wear makeup, but today this is not usually the case with a developing demographic influenced by American tradition. The quinceañera is also expected to wear a formal evening dress. Traditionally, that dress was a long ball gown.
In the Mexican tradition - when the teenager is Catholic - the quinceanera celebration begins with a mass. She arrives to the celebration accompanied by her parents, godparents and court of honor. The court of honor is a group of her chosen peers consisting of paired-off girls and boys, respectively known as damas (dames) and chambelanes (chamberlains).
Typically, there are seven or fourteen pairs of damas and chambelanes. It can vary.
After the mass, guests gather for a reception where the remaining celebratory events meant to honor the quinceanera will take place, including the rendering of gifts.
This reception may be held at the quinceanera's home, at an events room (such as a dining hall, banquet hall), or in some cases even a block party will suffice.
Traditionally, Mexican girls could not dance in public until they turned fifteen, except at school dances or at family events. Therefore, the quinceañera's waltz with the chamberlanes is the girl's first public dance ever.
Some families may choose to add ceremonial components to the celebration, depending on local customs. Among them are the ceremony of the 'Change of Shoes' where a family member presents the quinceañera with her first pair of high heel shoes; the Crowning ceremony, in which a close relative vests her with a crown on her head; and “ceremonia de la ultima muñeca” (literally “ceremony of the last doll”), during which her father presents her with a doll usually wearing a similar dress as the quinceañera herself.
The ceremony of the last doll is based on a Maya tradition and is related to the birthday girl's receipt and renouncement of the doll as she grows into womanhood. Likewise, the ceremony of the change of shoes symbolizes the girl's passage into maturity.
The next morning the family and closest friends may also attend a special breakfast, especially if they are staying with the family. Sometimes what is known as a recalentado (re-warming) takes place, in which any food not consumed during the event of the night before is warmed again, for a brunch type event.
Another tradition commonly found at a quince is the 'Ceremony of the 15 Candles'.
In this ceremony, the birthday girl delivers fifteen candles to the people who she considers were most influential in her development during her fifteen years. It is often accompanied by a speech, usually dedicated to each of the people that are given candles.
“If I were in the hospitality business, I'd be marketing Hispanics. Chances are that a quinceañera is brewing somewhere,” said Garcia.
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 835-1513 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org