A girl’s fifteenth birthday is a special event here. The tradition of the quinceañera goes back a long time, and has taken various forms over the years. But in essence, it declares a girl is now becoming a woman.
On the simplest level it says: “Our daughter is marriageable. Young men may now legitimately declare their lustful interest.” In today’s Mexican society, where the old custom of teenage marriages in the villages has declined, it has become more a rite of passage to adulthood, even if the older meaning still pertains.
A party is a must, of course, while some families can afford to accompany their daughters on a trip elsewhere in Mexico, or even overseas. The party easily lasts all afternoon and into the evening, and everyone can remark how the girl in question was just a rug-rat not long ago, and now look at her.
Janika, all dressed up and all grown up, too.
Depending on a family’s means and status, it might be a modest celebration with immediate family and friends, or a full-on blow-out. At times, I’ve seen embarrassed young girls in colourful dresses paraded round the village accompanied by a band and a phalanx of protective male relatives. Janika’s, to which I was invited last weekend was in the upper range. There were over 150 people attending, a DJ, and hired waiters.
Sobriety was not the aim of the event, even if the young lady at the centre of it can’t yet drink.
To round things out, a squad of costumed Chinelos was on hand to get everyone dancing. The Chinelo dance could be described as a vigorous solo samba, sometimes with the occasional touch of Saturday Night Fever thrown in, but it requires only minimal skill to get into. It’s hard to disgrace yourself, in other words, even if you’re naturally as flat-footed as I am.
Flanked by her posse of close pals and relatives, Janika leads her squad of Chinelos to the dance-floor.
Janika’s family is a prominent one in the community, and we had barbecued pork, unlimited beer and a bottle of tequila on every table. There isn’t so much a guest-list on these occasions as an expectation that everyone who knows the parents and grandparents will show up to celebrate the girl’s emergence into the community. This young woman is about to graduate from her middle school, and will soon be moving with her family to Canada, so there was also a sense of a generous farewell and a lasting reminder of her roots.
A very small Chinelo on the dance-floor.
Some families involve their small children in the Chinelo tradition, which conveys a measure of cool to the kids who have their own elaborate costumes made for them. I think the one in the photo above was a daughter who, in a few more years, will be having her own quinceañera.
2 thoughts on “Ready for the World”
I wonder if this custom, common to other cultures, may serve a purpose that is lacking in ours.
Our culture has given up on most transitional ceremonies leading to adulthood: baptism, confirmation, even the old twenty-first birthday party. There was a parallel to the quinceañera in the UK with the weathy or aristocratic debutantes who ‘came out’ into “society’ at age seventeen.