A quinceañera (fifteenth-birthday celebration) is a rite of passage for young, usually Catholic, Hispanic girls in Texas and throughout the Southwest. The ceremony may derive in part from puberty rites celebrated among Indians of the Americas more than 500 years ago to signify entry into adulthood and acceptance of responsibilities. The rites were often sex-based; in them, females were introduced to such traditional roles as childbearing and males were initiated as warriors. Boys have played small roles in quinceañeras, as escorts to the girls who participate as damas (maids of honor). Quinceañeras are partly religious and partly social events. According to Sister Angela Erevia, they should focus on such religious themes as individual spirituality and community service and the universally recognized values of faith, hope, and charity. A quinceañera consists of a special Mass for the celebrant, during which she renews her commitment to Christian values. A party usually follows the church services. In recent years the Catholic Church has sought to influence families to stress the spiritual side of the event and to discourage expensive social festivities beyond the reach of working-class parents. In some parishes, including six predominantly Mexican-American ones in Austin, priests have passed a resolution to deter costly dances and dinners. In one case, individual quinceañeras were banned in favor of group-based bilingual ones for all female members of the parish who requested them upon turning fifteen. The celebrant's costume has also been an important part of the observance. Long white gowns resembling wedding dresses have been a traditional part of the ceremony, but some celebrants choose pink gowns. In addition, the celebrant usually wears a religious medal that expresses her faith, a ring that symbolizes her spiritual and communal responsibilities, and a crown that foreshadows her triumph in living a Christian life. She also carries flowers, which represent new life. The celebration of quinceañeras has yet to be fully studied. No similar custom has existed for Hispanic boys.
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