Quinceañera memories to last forever

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Thalia Hernandez, 15, of Jasper, is lifted by her chambelanes, young men picked to honor Thalia's quinceañera, while practicing the dances before performing them inside Venue 1408 in Huntingburg on Saturday. "Some people just think it's a big party," Thalia said. "The quinceanera is becoming a woman, so you're dancing, you're getting your makeup done. But, everything represents a special thing. The dress is you being a princess.


For 15-year-old Thalia Hernandez of Jasper, her quinceañera was filled with moments to remember.

In Latin American culture, a quinceañera celebrates a girl’s 15th birthday and her transition from girlhood to womanhood. It’s both a religious and a social celebration, with a Mass preceding a huge party that brings together family and friends to celebrate the quinceañera — which is the word for both the event and for the person being celebrated.

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Although Thalia celebrated her 15th birthday last October, she celebrated her quinceañera Mass at St. Joseph Cathlic Church in Jasper Saturday and then had her party at Venue 1408 in Huntingburg.

In Anglo culture, the closest event to a quinceañera would be a sweet 16. But a quinceañera is a more serious event than a sweet 16. In Latin American culture, a quinceañera is on par with a wedding in terms of importance.

“I say it’s like marrying God,” Thalia said.

Preparation for the big day begins months in advance, with 14-year-old girls taking quinceañera classes at their churches to prepare for the Mass. Thalia took her classes at St. Joseph Parish in Jasper where her family attends church regularly. To celebrate a quinceañera in the church, Thalia said, girls have to take the classes. And she definitely wanted the church to be part of her special day, as her faith is important to her.

Father Jerry Pratt blesses the gifts given to Thalia Hernandez, 15, of Jasper, from her family for her quinceañera at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper on Saturday. Thalia has been taking classes with Pratt at the church to prepare her for this day. "It helps you find who you are, grow your faith and figure out what you want to be after you're 15," Thalia said.

During the Mass, Thalia had the jewelry she was wearing — a rosary, a medal, a bracelet and a ring — blessed, and she made an offering of flowers to God through the Virgin Mary. She also read a prayer to thank God for her first 15 years of life and to ask for his guidance as she goes forward.

In addition to the classes and Mass, the quinceañera also has a huge party to plan. Part of that is choosing the girl’s court of honor, which can be made of up girls — damas in Spanish — or boys — chambelanes in Spanish — or a combination of both girls and boys.

For her court, Thalia chose nine chambelanes from her closest friends and family, with her 10-year-old brother Raulemilio as her chambelan of honor. The court of honor will follow the quinceañera throughout her special day helping her and her family with whatever they need.

The dancing portion of the party also kicks off with several choreographed dances performed by the quinceañera and her court. Thalia and her court started practicing their dances in April, but Thalia said other courts spend even more time practicing.

There’s also months of party planning involved, as hair and makeup appointments have to be made, a venue and music has to be booked, a grand cake has to be ordered and decorations have to organized.

The quinceañera also has to pick out a ball gown to wear at her party. Thalia chose a gold gown modeled after the gown the Disney princess Belle wears for her dance with the Beast.

In fact, Thalia’s whole party was Beauty-and-the-Beast-themed, with the men wearing navy blue suits modeled after the one the Beast wears in the iconic dance, and one of the choreographed dances was to the song “Beauty and the Beast” from the film. Belle was always Thalia’s favorite Disney princess. Thalia liked how Belle wasn’t boy crazy and just wanted to read books.

Thalia Hernandez, 15, of Jasper, talks with her little sister, Sherilyn, 4, before the dances began at Venue 1408 in Huntingburg on Saturday.

“That’s mostly me,” Thalia said. “I just daze off in a book.”

In addition to the choreographed dances, the party portion of the day includes several traditions marking the quinceañera’s transition into womanhood. After the procession into the party, her parents present her with her first pair of high-heeled shoes, and she wears them during her father-daughter dance. Her parents also present her with a tiara and la ultima muneca — the last doll — to symbolize the last toy she’ll receive. At Thalia’s quinceañera, her little sister, Sherilyn, 4, presented the doll.

The quinceañera also opens a gift as part of the festivities, which includes small toys and candy she throws to the little kids in attendance. Thalia’s older sister, Anahi, 19, and her boyfriend, José Valdez of Frankfort, gave the gift.

To end the quinceañera traditions, some girls add a surprise dance to the festivities that they perform with their court. Thalia decided to add two Latin American dances — the Mexican cumbia and the Puerto Rican merengue. She chose those dances to honor her heritage, as one side of her family is Mexican and the other is Puerto Rican.

At the end of the long day — it started at 5 a.m. with hair and makeup — and lasted well into the evening, Thalia was exhausted. But she also had a day filled with special memories she’ll carry with her into her adult life.

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