Quincea#110;era celebrations bring the family together to prepare for the big day

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2003

Roxana Orellana/Austin Daily Herald

The lavender, princess-like dress that hangs neatly wrapped in plastic in Mayra Hernandez's closet will always remind her of a special day in her youth.

The 15-year-old Austin High School freshman, wore the dress for her Quinceanera celebration.

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In many cultures, coming of age rituals initiate a young child to the adult world. In Mexico the 15th birthday of a young girl is unique, for it welcomes her to becoming a responsible adult and she no longer will be considered a child.

Quinceanera, which derives from the word quince, meaning 15, and anos, which means, years, has its roots from various backgrounds including Catholism, Mayan and Aztec roots, according to historical research.

Once a girl celebrates her 15th birthday, she becomes eligible for more responsibilities and commitments such as getting involved in her community or marriage.

"I am thankful to God for allowing me to live 15 years," Hernandez said.

The preparations for the celebration start long before the actual birthday. Traditionally family and friends help out with the costs and details of the event.

Hernandez paged through the large photo album delicately decorated in the same fabric, color and pattern of her dress. Collected in the pages are photos and names of padrinos (godparents), family and guests.

The Hernandezes, with the help of friends, prepared the meals and decorations.

In Mexico, some of the more traditional families hire a mariachi band to serenade the quinceanera the night before.

One of the most significant components of the celebration is a "Misa de acci—n de gracias" (thanksgiving Mass) when the quinceanera makes a promise to serve her community and her church.

Escorted by her parents and padrinos the quinceanera sits by the altar throughout the service.

"The parents pray over the child and the padrinos bring her gifts. She then offers her bouquet of flowers to the Virgin (Mary) as a gift," said Father Kurt Farrell who does the Quinceanera mass at The Queen of Angels church.

The quinceanera is usually accompanied by damas (maids of honor) and chambelanes (chamberlains), who are chosen from family members or friends.

Hernandez pointed to a large doll dressed in a miniature version of her own dress. The doll is a gift from her godparents, which represents the last toy she will receive.

After mass, the celebration moves to the party.

The Hernandezes rented a locale to host the party. All the guest joined the family and the Quinceanera for the celebration, foods and music.

The chambelanes take turns dancing with the Quinceanera, but customarily the first dance is a waltz danced with her father.

The celebration is a tradition that has been carried from generation to generation in the Hernandez family. Francisca Hernandez, Mayra's grandmother, who helped with the celebration, said that she remembers her daughter's celebration back in Mexico.

"If I ever have daughter of my own, I'll celebrate for her too," Hernandez said.