Doughnut walls. Meme-inspired eye makeup. Candy stations. Let’s face it, quinceañera celebrations have come a long way since their roots in ancient Aztec traditions. But at the heart of the festivities remains a rite of passage: On her 15th birthday, a young girl begins her transition into the first stages of adulthood.
“I had one. My sisters had one, and my niece had one,” says Karen Rafael of New York City, who is planning a “quince” party for the oldest of her three daughters. “We are very excited for my girls.”
Rafael’s family is from Guatemala, and her husband’s family is from Honduras. They plan on incorporating customs from each country to uphold both families’ traditions, which play an important role in the celebration.
“Here in the United States, (the quinceañera party) is a way to hold onto your roots,” says Celia Barrios, owner of Tiaras and Tacones, a party planning company in Los Angeles.
With a rite of passage to celebrate, as well as familial bonds and traditions, it’s no wonder that the parties have become such major events, on par with — and sometimes even surpassing — the luxuries and amenities of weddings.
Like a wedding, a key element for fun-filled festivities is incorporating trendy features. “The girls are calling photo booths, backdrops, dessert tables (and) doughnut walls ‘must-haves’ this year,” says Karina Torres, social media coordinator at quinceanera.com, an online resource for everything quinceañera. “These are all trending quince accessories that aren’t necessary, but every girl still wants.” Barrios adds that “a DJ, live band and alternative types of entertainment like photo booths, candy stations, oxygen bars, lounges and performers help to wow guests.”
The wow factor doesn’t come cheap, and Torres explains that quinceañera celebrations have become a billion-dollar industry.
“So many factors come into play,” says Barrios. “Prices will range (from) $15,000 to $80,000; those are the types of events that I’ve assisted in. If you look at the quinceañera market, for example, in the East Coast, specifically in the Miami area, families can spend in the hundred thousands. They seem a lot more elaborate when you look at their setups and what they do. But … events in Texas and California are catching up quickly.”
While some of that cost can be offset by generous gifts given to the birthday girl, Torres warns that “it all depends on the quinceañera. There (are) a lot of girls that receive from $1,000 to $5,000 worth of gifts, but there are also girls who don’t even receive that much.”
As for the legwork, parents have options that may cut down on costs. “You have to start looking for the place early so that you find the best deal. All-inclusive packages (that can offer everything from reception and open bar to lighting design and hotel guestrooms) are fine; that allows parents to focus on the other things,” says Rene Sanchez, who threw a quinceañera party for his daughter Bianca in February.
If you feel that’s too expensive, find one element, such as the photo booth, that is extremely important to her and make it worthwhile, Sanchez suggests.
Barrios, who’s spent more than 10 years in the event-planning business, recommends
being flexible when looking to get the most for your money.
“Saturday is (the) premium day for having an event, but don’t overlook a later-in-the-evening Friday event, a Saturday lunch event or a Sunday brunch,” she says. “These are all great alternatives when wanting a certain venue. Some people shy away from more elegant or expensive locations because of this.”
One of the most important expenses, of course, is the guest of honor’s dress, the cost of which starts at around $300. Browse through options on social media and websites devoted to quinceañera and you’ll find beaded ball gowns, miles of tulle and taffeta and designs inspired by Disney favorites like Belle from Beauty and the Beast — all subject not just to personal preference, but to customs, too. “In Ecuador, the quinceañera dress is usually pink, and the party is known as ‘The Pink Party,’” says Torres.
Some traditions are being challenged, as modern quince girls flirt with designs like shorter hemlines and midriff-baring gowns. Makeup isn’t just modern, it’s very of-the-moment — currently trending designs that are worn by popular celebrities.
Some of the most poignant aspects of a quince party don’t come with a hefty price tag. Celebrations can include a Mass, as well as a candle ceremony in which family members or other key figures in a quinceañera teen’s life light 15 candles and offer loving words and anecdotes. Photo slideshows, the changing of the shoes (where the birthday girl exchanges her flats for high heels) and the father-daughter dance are also surefire ways to make a quince party memorable without breaking the bank.
The number and makeup of the party guests are typically based on personal preference and budget. A quince girl may have a court of honor consisting of chambelanes and damas. In Peruvian tradition, there is one male chambelan. In other customs, the court is made up of 14 couples. “Now it’s really become a personal choice,” says Barrios. In fact, personal choice — and recognizing the guest of honor’s individuality — has become the new tradition of quinceañera celebrations. “Her quirky desires are really what makes her special,” Sanchez adds.
Though it’s a months-long — and sometimes even years-long — planning process, Sanchez urges family, friends and planners to avoid getting caught up in the details and remember the reason for the celebration.
“We tend to focus on all the nuisances of the preparations that we forget (what) it’s
really about,” says Sanchez. “It’s all about the birthday girl!”