Although the quinceañera is a very important celebration for the Latino community, some of us are not so crazy about it.

In fact, if we take a look at its history, it sounds more like a cattle call. It’s a weird, twisted graduation into womanhood, marriage, and motherhood.

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And yes. It seems that in the 21st century, these kinds of traditions shouldn’t make sense.

In the wake of social movements like #MeToo, the coming-of-age thing makes many of us uncomfortable. It’s like saying a girl is ready for sale. Ergo, marriage.

To this day, many of us wonder, with respect for those who celebrate the tradition, what’s the purpose of the Quinceañera?

What is a special celebration for Latinos is, in fact, a common rite of passage in many cultures.

Let’s see some of them, shall we?

Other current versions of Quinceañera

Most people living in the United States are familiar with the Sweet Sixteen —somewhat similar to the Quinceañera — and Bar Mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition, but did you know about the Norwegian Confirmation Ceremony? Neither did I.

Confirmation comes from the Latin word “confirm” (for us Latinos, it would be ‘confirmacion’), meaning to strengthen, grow and develop. 

From 1763, a confirmation ceremony — which marked the passage from childhood to adulthood — was legally required by the age of 19 in Protestant Christian Norway. However, it became voluntary in 1912. 

Simple and promptly done.

Celebrations of Womanhood in Africa

Let’s move on to Africa, where the Zulu tribe celebrates the Umemulo ceremony and signals that a woman is ready for marriage. At least they wait until she is 21, which seems a better age than the Quinceañera.

A week before the celebration, the woman in question and a group of her friends go to a secluded hut to prepare for the ceremony. 

But, first, the “agasajada” undergoes a “virginity test” — although it is not mandatory.

She learns what it means to be a woman, whatever that is, and she and her friends perform a ritual dance called Umemulo, carrying spears symbolizing strength and victory. 

Now, that’s a waltz I can get into.

In Japan, quinceañera is a different kind of toast

In Japan, there is also a coming of age for girls (and boys) called Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day. A national holiday celebrated annually, it’s a special day for Japanese citizens who turned 20 — Japan’s legal adult and drinking age. 

This ritual encourages self-reliance and is held in city halls – with the unavoidable speech by the mayor.

Women wear kimonos, and men wear suits. After the ceremony, the practice is to go to the local shrine to pray for success and good luck on their journey to adulthood. 

Finally, these “new adults” celebrate by drinking with their friends – where they dance, drink, and have fun. I like that one. 

There are many other coming-of-age rituals, and more space is needed here to mention them, but I will leave you with this last example: 

The Apache Sunshine Ceremony 

The Apache women celebrate The Sunrise Ceremony after receiving their first period. It is a four-day celebration preceded by six months of preparation — during which girls physically train for the ceremony (who said the entry into womanhood is easy?) and her traditional costume is put together.  

And get a load of what she has to do once the ceremony begins, during which her sponsor and the medicine man guide her. 

She has to dance for hours — all day and all night — and chant, sing and pray. Then, to represent the four stages of life, she must run in all four directions while painted over with a sacred mixture of cornmeal and clay. 

With this, she embodies the White Painted Woman — the first woman in Apache mythology and a deity representing maturity, femininity, tradition, and cycles. 

On the last day, the girl blesses her people with pollen, “heals” through touch, and receives gifts from them. Imagine all that in a glittering ball gown, crown, and stilettos. 

Still, I would much rather go through The Sunrise Ceremony; how about you?