From surrendering the last doll (ultima muñeca) during the Catholic mass to the shoe ceremony before the final father-daughter dance afterward, the quinceañera is full of symbolic gestures and gifts. Unlike the ordinary birthday parties that the quince girl might’ve enjoyed for the prior 14 years, her 15th extravaganza officially marks her coming of age, and therefore requires appropriate gifts and apparel to carry her through that transition.
Often, the quinceañera itself is the present for the birthday girl, rather than a bounty of wrapped packages. Parents who can afford big-budget fiestas may give their daughter a regálo sorpresa, or surprise gift, but the emphasis of traditional quinceañera presents -- including the prayer book, rosary and Bible needed for Mass -- is on what the quince girl will wear and carry to her ceremony. These may be given by a combination of grandparents, other relatives and friends, and each of them carries a special meaning:
- Quinceañera gowns represent femininity.
- Quinceañera rings represent a girl’s bond to God, family and her community.
- Quinceañera crowns and tiaras represent her superior morality.
- Quinceañera cross necklaces emphasize a girl's devotion to the Catholic Church and virginity.
In a way, quinceañeras are more of a giant gift to the invited guests than to the quince girls. After the ceremonial Mass, a quinceañera celebration migrates to a reception with food, drinks and lively music for attendees. While they’re there to help welcome the quince girl into adulthood, guests also receive special keepsakes. Decorated champagne flutes are handed out for a toast to the quince girl’s future joy. Tokens called cápias or cerámicas, may be imprinted with the quince girl’s name and date as a memento for guests as well.
Considering the pomp and circumstance, as well as the months of preparation, that go into a quinceañera, it’s understandable that they only come around once in a Hispanic girl’s lifetime. Though the rite of passage may vary slightly from Puerto Rico to Panama to Palo Alto, the heart of the quinceañera remains constant. Whether lavish or low-key, these extraordinary Sweet 15 fiestas allow young girls to become fairytale princesses for a day on their way to becoming full-grown women.