How Latino Families Are Celebrating Quinceañeras Now

The pandemic may have canceled traditional celebrations. But Latino families are still finding festive ways to celebrate quinceañeras.

15th birthday tiara
Photo: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty Images (1)

A quinceañera—or "quince" for short—marks a significant milestone in many young Latinas' lives. Although it may seem like just lavish birthday party, it holds much deeper meaning. The celebration, in honor of a girl's 15th birthday, is a rite of passage symbolizing her transition into womanhood.

Deeply rooted in religion, the quinceañera celebration starts with a mass or prayer service, usually held in the Catholic church. The birthday girl is escorted down the aisle, often by a court of damas (girls) and chambelanes (boys). She receives special blessings and honors the Virgin Mary, pledging a commitment to purity. Next is usually a celebration with dinner and dancing to some mariachi music and a DJ. Traditional rituals last well into the evening, including changing from flat slippers to high heels, and la ultima muñeca or one last doll—all of which are symbols of leaving childhood behind.

With all the celebrating, some of these quinceañeras are far from cheap. Some families invest countless hours and money, often saving from when their daughters are very young. The cost of a quinceañera can depend on various factors, including the dress, venue, number of guests, food, entertainment, and flower arrangements, but can check out anywhere from a few to tens of thousands of dollars.

Many girls from Latino households dream of the day they will experience their quince, so imagine her disappointment—and the disappointment of her parents—when she's forced to cancel her big coming-of-age moment. With COVID-19 sweeping across the globe, birthday parties, graduations, and weddings have ground to a halt, and dream quinceañeras are no different. Stay-at-home orders have forced families to say goodbye to their lifelong visions of in-church processionals and large receptions. But if one thing rings true in the Latino culture, it's the fiesta must go on and quinceañeras are being reimagined.

The Drive-By Quinceañera

Picture, if you will, a young girl wearing her oversized, sequin ball gown, donning a shimmering tiara, and bouquet in hand. But rather than being accompanied by a court of damas and chambelanes, she's greeted with a line of cars honking and holding birthday signs out their windows. She stands at the end of her driveway waving as family and friends roll past, limiting all physical contact. This is the new normal.

The Backyard Quinceañera

Many girls anticipate the special moment of dancing with their fathers on their quinceañera day, and they are not letting the moment pass them by. Some are choosing to celebrate their big days in their backyards with limited guests and an abundance of sentiment.

And some are making lemons out of lemonade. "I love how [families are creating] custom-printed face masks for their guests," says Desiree Ontiveros, founder of Badass Balloon Co., a New Orleans-based balloon company. "It makes the photos look better, especially since your quinceañera photo album is so important for those memories."

The traditional recuerdo (a sentimental party favor commemorating the quinceañera) has taken on a new meaning, too. Families are setting up tables "with individual gift boxes that include items like hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes," says Ontiveros, who worked on quinceañeras in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, before the coronavirus pandemic.

The Quinceañera Photo Shoot

A photo is worth a thousand words, and although girls have had to skip out on the big party, they're still taking part in photographer-hired shoots to capture memories for a lifetime. It allows the birthday girl to dress up and play princess for the day, which some would argue is the best part anyway!

The Virtual Quinceañera

Technology is making it easy for friends and family from all over to gather together virtually via Zoom. And with social media reigning supreme in the lives of Gen-Zers, taking the party to platforms like Instagram and TikTok is another perfect option. "In the age of social media, 15-year-olds increasingly crave content, and a cool balloon backdrop is the perfect ingredient for a great TikTok video," explains Ontiveros. "Balloon garlands as a backdrop have been a huge trend lately."

The Postponed Quinceañera

As the pandemic rages on, some 15-year-olds are looking to celebrate their quinceañera in 2021 instead. It may not be traditional, but they will turn their 16th birthdays into a grand event, if Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines allow.

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