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The possibility that such attention was paid to these event in earlier times in European cultures is obvious but absent from modern representations of rites of passage. What can be interesting is the correlation between the two rites of passage discussed here, the "sweet 16" party and the Quinceanera and their similarities to weddings. Because weddings are expected to be delayed, more so in U.S. culture but also in Mexican and other cultures, as a mark of good judgment some rites of passage and especially those for girls seem to have become mirrors or proxy weddings, where massive expenses are sometimes incurred and dress is decidedly formal.
It must first be understood that the quinceaneras is actually a religious rite performed in conjunction with a special mass in the Roman Catholic Church as well a blessing and a group of ceremonies for the 15-year-old girl, 15 of her friends and/or family members who are all around the same age, her parents, god parents and her extended family. The celebration can begin with special preparations including prayers, fasts and/or lectures and teachings provided by the bishop or priest of the Parrish church the young girl attends and ends with a celebration mass, special blessing and follows with a reception like party. The actual spiritual aspect of the ceremony is similar in character to the Bat Mitzvah (the female equivalent to a Bar Mitzvah) that occurs in the Jewish culture and is prepared for in Hebrew School, though it occurs in the 12th year (Zenner, 1988, p. 119-121) yet there is no official order to the Quinceaneras and the young woman does not lead the blessings of demonstrate religious learning in the manner of the Bat Mitzvah, or the Bar Mitzvah. (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Fifteen Questions on the Quinceanera," NP)
In many ways the celebration is compared to a wedding as the quinceaneras is an acknowledgement of the bond between the church and the girl, as in traditional Mexican (and South American) culture the woman is the bringer of faith. The woman in this culture has traditionally been the one who is most active in the faith and who develops the home as a domestic place of worship, by building the altarcito in the home where prayers are offered for the living and the dead.
In the Hispanic community, traditionally it has been the women who hand on the faith. The abuelita (grandmother) holds a special place in the family for that reason… Women organize feast days, celebrate rituals and offer prayers. Hispanic women are the evangelizers and teachers of values, yet their leadership has often gone unrecognized. The Quince Anos Blessing publicly acknowledges this historic role. (USCCB, "Fifteen Questions on the Quinceanera," NP)
It is at the point where the ritual of the quinceaneras ends and the "reception" begins that in many ways the celebration takes on all the trappings of the secular "sweet 16" party seen in the U.S. Even the Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledge that the quinceaneras often takes on an extremely important place in the family, to such a degree that is becomes exceedingly expensive and in some regards over the top, with spending outstripping the family's abilities to pay for it, something that can also be said for weddings, which are more egalitarian and independently paid for today (especially in the U.S.) but are traditionally paid for by the bride's family. The quinceaneras taking on this role, according to the Bishops is associated with the materialistic manner in which we live our lives. The Bishops also contend that the quinceaneras, which is a cultural rather than a national practice, as it occurs in Mexico, (some South American countries) and the U.S. among Catholic Latino families is a rite of passage that needs to be curtailed to its original meaning rather than commercialized and materialized as it has been, in part with the movement of it across the border. (USCCB, "Fifteen Questions on the Quinceanera," NP) the Quinceanera reception resembles that of a wedding and like the derivatives of the "sweet 16" party (mentioned later, the first cotillion and the debutant ball) the girl is more often than not expected to wear white, like at first communion or baptism, all expressions of virginity and purity.
The "sweet 16" party which occurs on or around the' 16th birthday, varies greatly from family to family but can also take on a proportion that is ridiculously commercial and materialistic, or can also be a simple party, like any other birthday party with some significance of meaning, acknowledging that the girl has to some degree become a woman. In the most extreme cases individuals can spend the cost of new home to arrange and properly "present" their daughter to the community as an adult. In general the significance of the 16th year for a girl is likely born from many traditional "coming of age" celebrations, such as the girls' first cotillion or a debutant ball (these terms are interchangeable and girls celebrating a "first cotillion" are often called debutants) practiced in the Southern U.S., mostly. (Fay, 2005, p. 29) the word cotillion is actually the name of a ballroom dance, the designation of first is significant in that the father (the giver of the girl to the community) is often the "first" dance partner. These events of course take on a complete different feel, with regard to boys, as the sweet sixteen party might be celebrated it will likely not be celebrates as a "sweet" sixteen party and often involves the young man's exposure to adult events, like drinking alcohol for the "first" time, driving ones new car either paid for by parents or earned by work and other such modern developments.
These two parties tend to occur between the 16th and 18th years are usually communal (unless the girl's family is very wealthy) and tend to occur only among the upper classes. They are commonly called "coming out" parties and are usually secular and are traditionally an expression of the family presenting the girl to the community as an eligible marriage partner. Though they have come to mean different things over the years, they are a symbolic expression of the father giving his daughter's hand to the community, in much the same way as the father traditionally gives the daughter to her groom at a wedding ceremony. (Rankin, 1999, p. 8) No such parties exist in any formal way for boys. Traditionally the party has been reserved only for upper class girls and is a formal affair, where the girls usually wear a white (wedding like) gown and are presented to the community one at a time with introductions that include family heritage and achievements, such as school, volunteer and/or future plans. (Rankin, 1999, p. 8)
The age of 16 is a common age of importance for girls in many cultures as is 15 in some and 12 in others, for various reasons, likely owning to the fact that this is the age that is thought of as the beginning of fertility, (see attainment of age rituals above) when the child's body has matured enough to bear children. Though the celebrations in most modern cultures including the Mexican and the American (though less so in the Mexican as a traditional age of marriage of 16 is still common practice) though there is evidence that average ages of first marriage are increasing in Mexico and in other areas in Latin America as they have in the U.S. One important observation made by Arriagada is also that the increases in age of marriage tend to effect the upper classes before the lower socioeconomic families as opportunities for higher education and other opportunities alternative to marriage for girls and boys are increased the wealthier your family is. (Arriagada, 2006, p. 511)
When analyzing the "sweet 16" party one must again acknowledge that there is a great deal of variation in its display. The display can be a direct result of the family's seriocomic level or other factors, just as with the quinceaneras. Yet, among many Mexican Catholic families there is a pressure to commit and to save for the quinceaneras regardless of ability, where this does not seem to be the case with the "sweet 16" other than internal familial pressure from the individual girl or boy. In a newspaper article about growing up the interviewer asked the respondent questions about the high school years and in response to one question can be seen the variation of secular and monetary output for a sweet 16 party. "What is the funniest thing you ever saw in high school? Riding in a limo around Junction City with eight of my best friends on my Sweet 16. We all wore our homecoming dresses and…[continue]
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