I went to not one but two quinceañeras today. I had never been to a quinceañera before so I was really excited. For those of you who don’t know, a quinceañera is the celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday in parts of Latin America and elsewhere in communities of immigrants from Latin America. This birthday is celebrated differently from any other birthday, as it marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. The celebration, however, varies significantly across countries, with celebrations in some countries taking on, for example, more religious overtones than in others (borrowed that definition from Wikipedia). Traditionally, girls in El Salvador wear pink dresses and everything for the party is pink.
The first quinceañera that we went to today was for Blanca’s niece, Marielos, who lives in San Salvador. But since Blanca’s parents lives in Alejandría Marielos decided to celebrate her quinceañera there. The second quinceañera was for a girl named Roxana who lives in Alejandría. The people in that community are close and often celebrate important events together.
Marielos and her mom arrived a little before 10am at the Pastoral House. Cecilia had told me this morning that we’d be leaving at 11am. What I didn’t know what that we’d be leaving on the bus at 11am. So at 10:10am when she said we were leaving I was very surprised. I grabbed my stuff and we were all off. The ladies don’t typically take a bus to and from Alejandría, but we had a lot of things to carry. We walked to downtown Berlín and went to the “bus stop” (you’d never know it was an actual bus stop). The bus that goes to the cantons is an old school bus. It leaves twice daily from Berlín at 11am and 3pm to go through Alejandría to the canton of Loma Alta.
We all loaded ourselves onto the bus with all our things, including Marielos’ dress and cake. We waited and waited but the bus wasn’t going to leave until 11am. I think we got there early so we could get seats. Since we had time to kill I talked with Marielos and her mom. We talked a lot about English and the difficulties of learning it. I think it helps to hear from an English speaker how difficult it is to learn English, especially pronunciation. Marielos is taking English in high school and is struggling with pronunciation. It was a great conversation and I was glad that I could understand most everything they were saying. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding new people.
Around 11am the bus driver started honking the horn which signaled to people that we were leaving and we eventually took off at 11:15. Nothing here ever happens quickly. I was excited because it was my first time in a bus that went to the cantons. The bus went much slower because the road is dirt and extremely bumpy. Cecilia started telling me that Cipitío lived in this area and was going to take me to his home. Cipitío is a very popular character in Salvadoran legends. He is a small and big-bellied kid that never grew up. Although he’s harmless, Cipitío is very obnoxious. Generally, he makes jokes and laughs at his victims.
The cake box
On the bus
We arrived at our stop a little before noon. We unloaded our things and began the walk to Blanca’s house. I had been holding the cake so I was the one to carry it to the house. I didn’t mind, but I was kind of surprised they trusted me to carry it without dropping it. The path to the house is downhill quite a ways and then steep uphill over rocky terrain. But the cake made it to the house in one piece. Everything was decorated when we arrived. There were pink balloons everywhere and flowers set out for Marielos. All the pink was also a surprise because I knew Marielos had chosen to wear a dress that wasn’t pink. I guess tradition is hard to break.
Blanca and I went to the house next door where Idalia and Vilma were cooking the meat for the fiesta. It looked really good. When we returned to the house Marielos had her dress on. It was beautiful!! The dress was knee-length and “celeste” (like a sky blue). We took a couple pictures and then it was time to get things ready for lunch. Daniela, Marielos’ sister, and I served up the melon fresco (juice) made fresh that morning. The ladies plated up all the food and passed it out to everyone. We had beef, tortillas, rice, salad, and potatoes for lunch. They tend to serve a lot of food for lunch here and I ate as much as I could. I couldn’t eat the potato because I was stuffed. But it was all delicious.
After lunch Marielos passed out gifts for everyone. It’s traditional here to give a small gift to each guest in remembrance of your quinceañera. It’s called a “recuerdo” (souvenir or keepsake). The recuerdo was a small girl on a bicycle. The bicycle has blue ribbon on it and on the ribbon is Marielos’ full name and birthdate. Marielos’ mom bought the bicycle and small girl and then glued on the ribbons. It is a beautiful recuerdo!! This was very special to me and I felt so lucky that I got to share this day with her.
Next it was cake time. Marielos had a pink and white frosted cake with a special doll on top which is to be one of her own recuerdos. We took a lot of family pictures with Marielos and the cake. Marielos wanted a picture of everyone and wanted to take the picture herself. But since it was her quinceañera Daniela wouldn’t give her the camera. I offered to take a picture of the whole family for them. It turned out great! We sang “Happy Birthday” to Marielos and then she cut the cake. I haven’t tasted cake like this for a while. It was like “store cake” you’d get in the US but with some pineapple inside. Really good!! I love store cake (Matt knows what I’m talking about). No one talked as we all stuffed our faces with cake. Yum!
Then it was time to do the piñata. The piñata was a pink and white elephant that Marielos was very excited about. Balmore hung it up at the entrance to their house. Marielos wanted to do it without a blindfold but Blanca insisted. She got the blindfold, the stick, and was ready to whack the piñata. Balmore moved it up and down as she swung at it. After a while she took off the blindfold and let Freddy have a turn. Freddy went wild hitting the piñata and the neck of it started to come apart. Then it was Marvin’s turn. He had a couple good smacks and it burst open, candy and money flying everywhere. Everyone went crazy and started grabbing up the goodies. But the fun is in grabbing the candy. Most of it was left with Marielos since it was her birthday.
We gave Marielos her gifts and she put them inside the house. It seems that people don’t typically open gifts in front of others here. At least, that’s always been my experience in the past. I gave her a card (which is not typical in the cantons) and a bottle of Avon perfume that I bought in town. I’d seen what the ladies at the Pastoral House got here so I already knew what most of the gifts were. And I figured it was her birthday and her right to wait to open the gifts.
Entrance to Blanca's house
Cooking the meat
Look at that meat!
Marielos with her grandma and Blanca
Hard at work
I see you!
Grandmother and granddaughter
The "recuerdos" for the guests
With the grandparents
Picture with Idalia
With the handsome young men
Waiting for cake
Family & friends photo
Cutting the cake
Something made her laugh
I'm trying to eat
Everyone enjoyed the cake
I don't want to use a blindfold
Cute little elephant
Not quite there, Marvin
Everyone gathered what they could
Collecting the candy
Here's some more
Around 2:15pm Cecilia, Marvin, Elmer, Freddy, and I walked over to Cecilia’s house to have some downtime before the next quinceañera. I immediately sat down in the hammock. Freddy, who is 4 years old and Cecilia’s nephew, came over and gave me some of his gum that he’d got from the piñata. He is such a sweetheart! Then he plopped himself down in my lap and got out a box of toys. It was some sort of old game where you connect pieces together. I’m spacing out on the name of it. I asked him what he was building and he said, “algo” (something). He made one design and I said it looked like the letter m. Then he made the letter x two times. He was working on another project when it was time to leave.
Taking a rest on Alisha
Laying in the hammock
Making an M
Taking on the phone
He fell out of the hammock
We walked to the house for the next quinceañera which was about a half mile away. This young lady, Roxana, had a pink dress on. I saw lots of chairs lined up and a table at the front of them. I figured we were going to have a Celebration of the Word, which is sort of like a mass that’s led by the lay ministers (called Delegates of the Word). We found some seats and waited for things to get started. The woman whose house we were at had two small boys that came over to play with Freddy. They were eating some sort of chocolate powder. They were pouring it into their hands and licking off. One of the boys held out his bag to share with me. It was very generous of him so I had to take some. He poured the powder into my hand and I followed suit by eating it out of my hand as well. Just like a kid.
The mass got started around 3:30pm. Balmore led the services with Mauricio and Elmer doing the readings. There was lots of singing during the service and everyone seemed to know the songs. During the homily part he spoke about turning 15 years old, God’s love for the young ladies, and the coming Semana Santa (Holy Week). At one point Roxana and her parents stood up front as her dad presented her with a special ring. Blanca had me move up to the front so I could get some pictures for her. Shortly after that the mass ended.
Almost immediately Roxana’s mom began to pass out food. We were served sandwiches that were filled with a little meat and some lettuce. It was very tasty. Vilma came around with pop for everyone. Then Roxana came around with a little bowl that had slips of paper in it that were folded up. I took one and opened it up. It said, “Felicidades” which means congratulations. I had no idea what this was for. In all honesty, I thought it was just Roxana’s way of thanking people who came to the party. So I was surprised to see that people had thrown them on the ground.
After a few minutes Vilma came over to me and asked me if I had something written on my piece of paper. I told her I did. Everyone looked at me and she told me that I’d won. Huh? I was really lost. Blanca explained to me that it was a raffle and I’d just won. Yes, sometimes I can be incredibly dense. It slowly began to sink in. Roxana’s dad came over and presented me with a beautiful pink quinceañera decoration. It was the recuerdo (keepsake) for Roxana’s quinceañera. Since there were so many people they’d bought one recuerdo and “raffled” off. And I’d just won. What luck! I think the recuerdo is a cake topper for a quinceañera cake. Whatever it is, I love it and I was very excited. I thanked them for the gift.
Then it was cake time. I got a picture of Roxana and her parents in front of her cake. Then I took one with her brother as well. She cut up the cake and it was passed out to all the guests. Everyone sat and enjoyed the cake. Music was put on and the guests began to mingle a little more. I chatted with Mauricio and Marielos for a while. Then I gave Roxana the present from me which she took into the house. I’d also bought her some Avon perfume and a quinceañera card.
Around 5:30pm Alejandro drove up in the pickup to take Blanca, Idalia, and I back to the house. It was too late to walk home. I congratulated the girls once again and said goodbye to everyone. In summary: two quinceañeras, two beautiful ladies, two keepsakes, two pieces of cake, endless love and laughter. It has been a great day.
Here comes the three o'clock bus
The next quinceañera
Eating chocolate powder
Now I've got it all over my hands
During the mass
Roxana's dad giving her a ring
Pretty in pink!
Time to eat again
With mom and dad
Cutting the cake
Time to mingle
The two young ladies
My special "recuerdo"!