by Dale Hoyt Palfrey
The transition from childhood to womanhood is a significant passage for
adolescent girls in almost all cultures. In Mexico, it is marked with the
celebration of the Quinceañera, or 15th Birthday. From a north of the border
viewpoint, it may be seen as a cross between Sweet Sixteen and a
debutante's coming out party. The celebration is a way to acknowledge that
a young woman has reached sexual maturity and is thus of a marriageable
The most important component of the celebration is invariably a Misa de
acción de gracias (thanksgiving Mass). The birthday girl arrives decked out
in a fancy full-length dress - frills, pastel tones and matching hats or
headdresses prevail. Flanked by her parents and padrinos (godparents),
she is specially seated at the foot of the altar throughout the service.
She may be accompanied by up to seven damas (maids of honor) and as many
chambelanes (chamberlains), selected from among close family and friends.