Coming of Age At A Quinceañera Party
Local girl Leslie Caballero officially became a woman this past weekend.
Local girl Leslie Caballero officially became a woman this past weekend. And I was lucky enough to bear witness.
Of El Salvadoran descent, Caballero is a rising junior at Mount Vernon High School. Her proud parents – Genaro and Brenda Caballero – are friends of my family. In Hispanic cultures, it's traditional to mark a young girl’s coming of age – 15th birthday – with a lavish event known as a Quinceañera (literally meaning, one who is fifteen). The ceremony marks the girl’s journey from childhood to maturity and revolves around God, family, friends, music, food and dance.
Quinceañera festivities typically start with a religious ceremony. Caballero’s began with a Spanish Mass at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, where she was accompanied by her Court of Honor (eight special close friends and relatives – young men, called Chambelán, and women, called Damas, paired up as couples).
The court pulled up to the church in a white Humvee limousine as a slew of photographers and videographers descended upon them, capturing every movement. Making their way down the aisle, the court was resplendent in ornate, matching pewter-colored, cocktail-length ball gowns and coordinating tuxedos with bold pink accents.
Caballero trailed both the court and her parents in an opulent, long fuchsia (traditionally pale pink, but it can be a different favorite color) evening gown, escorted by her older brother, Jeffrey, who acted as her personal Chambelán for the event. Atop her head rested a gleaming tiara, symbolizing her status as a “Princess before God.”
Mass was offered by a close family friend and priest, brought in for the occasion. (Full disclosure: I have to admit, I was a little trepidatious over my participation in the Spanish Mass considering my grasp of the language is limited to ola, gracias and the words to Señor Don Gato. But my worries proved unfounded as it turned out expressions of love required no translation. In fact, I even teared up a couple of times just from watching the demonstrative exchanges between Caballero and her parents, in spite of not knowing what was actually being said.)
In a nod to their non-Spanish speaking guests, the Caballero family also thoughtfully prepared hand-outs in English, which detailed all of the components of the ceremony taking place.
At the Mass, it is common to gift the Quinceañera with symbols of her faith – a Bible, rosary or cross, typically. Generally, the young woman receives a ring or bracelet from her family as well, symbolizing, per our hand-outs, "the never-ending circle of life, the unending stages of womanhood and the ability to make future contributions.” At the end of the Mass, Caballero placed her bouquet upon the altar as an offering to the Virgin Mary.
Caballero’s family had ordered a custom ring featuring her amethyst birthstone, but since it didn’t arrive in time for the ceremony, she was instead gifted with a ruby and diamond ring. The ceremonial ring typically consists of a pink or red stone such as a ruby, diamond or pink sapphire.
Mass concluded around 3:45 p.m. and was followed by a reception a couple of hours later at the local Knights of Columbus Hall – which cleaned up very well and looked a far cry from its more usual Bingo-hosting self. There were enough white-linen clothed round tables with gorgeous centerpieces and fuchsia-ribbon chair covers to cater to the nearly 200 guests. And accessorizing pink decorations burst forth from the hall’s every orifice, adding to the ambience.
Upon arrival to the reception, we were greeted by the Caballero family and given our table assignment. (Shout-out to my tablemates and new friends, Dick and Ione Knapp. By the end of the evening, they felt like family. The abundance of free-flowing spirits only played a minimal role in fostering that. Although the way Dick was tearing up the dance floor might have indicated otherwise. His King Tut rendition was especially masterful.)
Once the guests arrived and were seated, Caballero and her court made their grand entrance and were officially announced. After formal introductions, they were then directed to a head table.
One item of note – when Caballero entered the hall, she was wearing flat shoes, which she also wore during the Mass. A ceremonial part of the celebration, which took place early in the evening, involved Caballero’s father changing her flat shoes to high heels – in her case, to strappy, silver sandals. After this event occurred, Caballero wore high heels for the duration, symbolizing her transition to womanhood.
Following the changing of the shoes, Caballero danced the waltz, first with her father, then with her brother. Proceeding the waltzes, the court performed a choreographed dance. After the official dances, it was game on for the dance floor. It never emptied and remained hopping for the rest of the night.
Dinner consisted of standard El Salvadoran fare. We were served generous portions of food that burst forth from the circumferences of our plates. Our meal included chicken with a mushroom sauce, roast beef with steamed mixed vegetables, rice, salad and bread. Did I mention that the portions were huge?
As the night progressed, the atmosphere grew more charged and the volume of the DJ-infused music notched upwards in correlation to the growing energy of the crowd. The Caballeros offered an open bar to their guests, replete with beer (called cerveza – now part of my expanding Spanish repertoire), wine and champagne.
Throughout the evening, a videographer approached every table and asked guests to render their salutations to Caballero since toasts are also an integral component of a Quinceanera party.
Another highlight of the evening was the cutting of the cake – a multi-tiered and delectable production. It was my first time sampling cake that actually contained pieces of fruit. It was light and airy and melted on the tongue. Delicious.
The final tradition of the evening involved the presentation of a porcelain doll or Barbie doll to the Quinceañera. The doll wore a matching dress to Caballero’s and included ribbons detailing her name and the date of her 15th birthday. At the end of the celebration, the Quinceañera traditionally walks around, passes out the ribbons to each guest and expresses her gratitude to those in attendance.
This was my first Quinceañera, but hopefully not my last, as it was truly a night to remember. So, again, happy birthday and congratulations Leslie Caballero! You are a beautiful and charming young woman, and it was a privilege to be included in your special day.