The quinceañera (keen-say-ahn-YEH-rah) is a 'Sweet 15' celebration of a young Hispanic woman's fifteenth birthday, a coming-of-age that usually includes a church ceremony and a large party, traditionally on the Saturday closest to the birthday. It's a time for high heels and a beautiful ball gown and can also be seen as a way to reaffirm faith and dedication to God. Different Latino cultures celebrate it in different ways. Those from El Salvador call it 'mi (MEE) fiesta rosa (ROE-sah),' or 'my pink party,' and the girl wears pink, while those of Mexican heritage usually wear white. Many in the Cuban culture celebrate with a lavish ball and no Mass. The religious ceremony can be a full-blown Mass, or just a simple blessing. During the ceremony, the quinceañera's mother traditionally places a tiara on her head, and her father symbolically changes her shoes from flats to heels. The reception-- which can be lavish or modest-- includes the introduction of a court of honor made up of family or friends and choreography performed by the court, which traditionally includes a waltz. Then comes the presentation of the young woman, the toast, and a thank-you by the girl and her parents. Another traditional element is the pastel (pah-STELL), or cake, similar to a wedding cake. When beginning to plan the quinceañera, the locations for the service and reception should be secured as soon as possible with deposits. In most cultures, the girl's parents pay for expenses, although in some, 'padrones' (pah-DROE-ness), or patrons-- such as extended family or friends-- help out with costs.
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