By Mayté Solano Gómez
Cuba is known mainly for having an eternal summer and for its jovial, friendly and unique people. The music and culture in general, the history and colonial architecture and the beautiful beaches and keys also make this island a favourite place to rest and enjoy vacations with family or friends.
However, there are many traditions of this beautiful country that are not well known, but that would surely attract the attention of foreign visitors.
One of these traditions is the celebration of the 15 years of the girls who reach this age.
A little bit of history
It is said that when the girls reach 15 years of age, they begin their passage to adult life, which merits a celebration, even since the time of the Mayans and Aztecs, who carried out a religious ceremony to thank the gods. Countries such as the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico, among others in Latin America, also have this tradition, as a continuity of the customs of these ancestors, which currently includes dances and gifts of flowers.
In Cuba, the tradition come from the Spanish, but with a greater French influence. Nor was it for all girls, but for those belonging to the upper class, who were introduced to society through fancy parties in large family mansions or in luxurious clubs or private restaurants. The choreographed dances included 14 other couples who danced to the beat of a waltz, around the ‘quinceañera’.
After the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution, these celebrations stopped, since they were considered legacies of bourgeois customs and a show of ostentation. In the 80s and 90s, the tradition was resumed, and it has varied over time, although its essence, the closure of one stage and the beginning of another, continues to be the main reason.
What does it mean to celebrate 15 years of age in Cuba today?
Like everything in this world, the tradition of ‘los Quince’ (the Fifteen) has its pros and cons.
On the one hand, there is the joy, the expectation, the hope, the planning of all the activities, from who will attend, what clothes to buy, with whom to book the photo sessions and the organization of the party, the place and the groceries. It is a moment when mother and daughter bond in their shared desire to make it a perfect day.
The rest of the family is also part of the preparations. They all have contacts who can provide a service or have already been through this moment and know a good photographic studio. Friends who have transport or work in catering can offer their services at a reduced price.
So, there is joy in the whole family. However, mainly for the parents, the celebration is stressful because of the costs involved. At least in Cuba, nowadays, celebrating ‘los Quince’ is increasingly expensive, while not all families are able to raise so much money, even collecting it from the birth of the baby, as many do.
In these cases, it is up to close family and friends to convince the ‘quinceañera’ to readjust her wishes, without hurting her feelings.
That was the case with Zadhara, one of many: ‘I wanted to have, for my Fifteen, a spectacular photo session, with new and modern clothes, the latest in fashion, a super party with the family from Havana and the country, with chocolate fountains and many balloons, and a reservation at an all-inclusive in Varadero, with my best friends. In the end, I had my photos, although not with all the new clothes I wanted, a small private party and a reservation for 3 nights at a house on the beach, with my closest family and friends.’
Having a relative or friend abroad who contributes money and clothing is a great help for many Cubans families.
Finally, it sums up the shortcomings in Cuba, a developing country, where everything can surprise you and even the most meticulous plan can fail at the last minute. And that is where the inventiveness and jovial and joyous character of the Cubans shine, although not without a significant amount of stress.
In short, to really enjoy the celebration, you should always think about the positive and beautiful things. That, along with the photos, the moments of laughter, dancing and the rejoicing of the quinceañera, will make it worth any sacrifice.
Something like this Zadhara tells us when she thinks about her “Quince”: “It is true that it was not as I had originally thought. I had to readjust, but in the end, I had a spectacular time with my family. That’s what remains in the end … and the photos, which were great.’
Who and how to celebrate the 15 years of age tradition in Cuba?
Traditionally and until just 7-8 years ago, girls who reached the age of 15 in Cuba were the only ones who celebrated the occasion. However, in recent times, boys have joined this beautiful custom, without their masculinity being diminished in any way.
What is done varies according to the tastes of the honoree and her family, as well as economic resources. YES … today celebrating ‘Fifteen Years’ in Cuba can be very high costly.
The boys and this Cuban tradition
While the girls (rather mothers and fathers) look for the costumes months in advance, the studio where the photos will be shot, the place for the party or the hotel where they will celebrate the date, in the case of boys things are usually simpler.
The most popular thing for them is to have an informal party, go out with friends, buy clothes and other items such as cell phones. Only a few have a party in the style of girls, with choreography and food or book photo sessions with a studio. In any case, in general, the celebration for males is usually less expensive than for females, and the level of expectations and planning is also much lower.
In the case of girls…
In the case of girls, photos continue to include both Epoque dresses and modern clothing. However, more and more their wardrobe is becoming more daring. Also, nude or underwear photos have increased, while tours in classic cars, as part of the photo session, enjoy great popularity among young women.
The party, which a few decades ago was celebrated at home, is now held in places decorated for the occasion, often by specialised agencies. Food continues to be an important part of the celebration, so a good chunk of the party budget goes to cakes, candy, snacks, and drinks.
The waltz is no longer the only dance. In the some cases, the quinceañera chooses a romantic song by a contemporary singer, but it is also common for the choreography to include a piece of reggaeton or casino. A family member handles the music, or a DJ or a famous group or singer is hired.
It has also become popular to enjoy the occasion in an all-inclusive hotel, with the company of a small number of friends and family, or to take a trip to a nearby country.
Some tips for if you decide to celebrate your 15 years in Cuba
Choose well in advance the theme of the party, the dresses, the studio and think about the photos you want.
If possible get advice from a local who has gone through this experience. The CubaCasa team can help you select from the various options. This will also help you not to receive offers with exagerated prices, just because you are a foreign tourist.
Organize the dances and activities well … to avoid any unforeseen hitches on the night.
Make sure that your makeup does not change your face so much that you are not recognized behind it.
Finally, you don’t have to include every aspect of the celebration. You can select those which most appeal to you.
Would you like to be part of one of these Cuban traditions?
Whether as a quinceañera or as a spectator, being part of the celebration of 15 years of age in Cuba can be a unique and very beautiful experience.
If you attend as a spectator, party decorations are welcome, no need for them to be fancy or too flashy, or a makeup kit. Even if you do not bring any presents, just the fact of you being there will be well received by the Cuban family, always open, supportive and proud.
If you are interested in the idea, contact us here. We can help you with your accommodation in a casa particular and transportation in the following destinations:
You can also get your Cuba Tourist Card through EasyTouristCard.com in 3 easy steps, or the information you need about it.