Quite the Quinceanera!

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

It was a week later and Rebeca Jimenez was still recovering from the festivities of the weekend before. The Westerville teen had celebrated her birthday for nine hours with about 150 of her closest friends and family members.

To be sure, it was not the usual sort of birthday party, even in the close-knit Latino community of Central Ohio. But because it was Rebeca's 15th birthday, it required a quinceaera party to mark this special occasion in her life.

"The planning, it was stressful, but the party was wonderful," Rebeca recalled as she and her father, Alejandro, visited with the party's professional planner Gerardo Encinas to review photos from the birthday bash, which had taken place at the Haimerl Center in northeast Columbus.

The birthday girl is designated La Quinceaera and she is celebrating her quince aos, or 15th birthday, but the party itself has also become known as a quinceanera.

The quinceanera tradition originated hundreds of years ago in the Americas. Native Americans had created a ceremony to mark the transition of a female from childhood to womanhood, but after the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 16th century, the tradition was tweaked to add an element of religion, as well as European touches like special dances. Quinceaneras are very popular in most of Latin America, but the traditions may vary, depending on the country.

"It marks when a girl turns 15," Encinas said. "Some people think it was to mark when a girl can get married, but that's not right. It celebrates that she is allowed to go to social events like a woman. It is in some ways like a wedding, but that is not what it's about."

Of course it can be as expensive as many weddings. Mr. Jimenez said he and his wife Lourdes spent $16,000 for their only daughter's party. Encinas said he sees budgets range between $10,000 and $55,000.

It was worth every penny, Jimenez said.

"I was there when she was born," the proud father said. "Everyone is very emotional and cries at these, and it was very emotional for me."

The Order of Events

• Planning begins months ahead as the family picks out a theme (a masquerade ball in Rebeca's case). The Jimenezes began working with Encinas in September 2010 for Rebeca's May 2011 quinceanera.

• On the day of the party, many families begin the festivities by going to church for a Catholic Mass or religious service.

• Guests begin to arrive at the party site about an hour before the birthday girl does.

• La Quinceanera and her court of attendees arrive for a grand entrance that has been choreographed and rehearsed ahead of time. Rebeca was greeted with a mariachi band, which played as she processed around the dance floor twice. Her accompanying girlfriends served as her damas while Rebeca's father, two brothers and male friends served as her chalmbelanes.

• Her mother then crowns her with a tiara, and is followed by her father who replaces the sneakers that Rebeca wore in with dress shoes, representing her transition from childhood to adulthood. Her parents then give her a "last toy" gift. Many families will give a doll, but Rebeca's parents gave her a skateboard customized with her name.

• A three-course dinner is served, then La Quinceanera dances the first dance - a waltz - with her father.

• Later in the evening comes the surprise dance. La Quinceanera and her friends perform a dance for the guests. Rebeca worked with local choreographer Miguel Ramrez to create a zombie dance set to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." She and five of her friends rehearsed the dance for three months. "The crowd asked for it twice," Rebeca said, "so we had to do it again. And then pretty much everybody starts dancing."

The Fine Details

• Rebeca's dress, ordered online for about $700, was a strapless ball gown made of white silk with gold-thread brocade detailing, and it had a shrug with long, bell-shaped sleeves.

• The dinner featured broccoli cream soup, beef tenderloins with red-wine sauce, pears in a red-wine reduction with vanilla ice cream, and a three-tier cake which Encinas made himself.

• Decor included cream- and orange-hued roses, masquerade centerpieces with feathers and a mask, and a poster-size photo of La Quinceanera. The tables also had bottles of water with labels featuring Rebeca's photo.