Celebration of an Individual’s Change of Status in Society

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The birth of a child, a youth’s coming of age, a graduation, an engagement, a wedding, joining a sisterhood/brotherhood, joining the military, and the funeral of a respected elder are all events in which an individual undergoes a change of status. In any rite of passage such as marriage, graduation, or birthday, involves dressing up/ or wearing special clothes according to the occasion. For a wedding, it’s very formal, dresses, suits and ties and as for a graduation it’s a cap and gown. There are also symbols involving these celebrations. Arnold van Gennep, french ethnographer and folklorist, author of The Rites of Passage, believed that there are three stages to the rite of passage. First, the separation from the previous life(preliminary phase), second, the transition from one status to the other(liminal phase), and last, the start of a new status(postliminal phase).

A quinceanera is a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, as it marks the transition from girlhood to womanhood. The quinceanera is both a religious and a social event that emphasizes the importance of family and society in the life of a young woman. This tradition is celebrated in Mexico and Latin America as well as Latino communities in the United States. But quinceaneras have also been Americanized. The celebration starts with a mass which is held in a Catholic church and is attended by the main girl and her family and godparents. The mass is then followed by taking quince pictures at a chosen location, and then the reception, to which friends and relatives are invited to. The reception features food, music, and dancing to which the girl is accompanied by her court which includes her damas “maids of honor” and her chambelanes “escorts”. The dance portion of the quince includes a choreographed waltz that may be considered the main event.

The dance is followed by a toast then the cutting of a fancy cake. The food that is traditionally served is rice and beas, corn flour tortillas, mole, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and have a seperate table of sweets. When I was 14 I took part in my friend’s quinceanera, I was one of her damas.There wasn’t a lot for me to do as a dama, but three months prior to the events I had to practice a dance that we were to perform. I was also in another “quinceanera” a year later in October but it was more Americanized. My friend wanted to keep the tradition of her culture but do it a year later for her 16th birthday. She didn’t have a mass, but pictures were taken, there was a dance, and similar foods were served as well. The only things that she did differently is that she didn’t wear a gown, she wore a 60’s inspired dress, and along with all the food she ordered The Habit to also cater for an hour

In 2018, I took part in my graduation ceremony. I helped my counselors two and a half months prior to the graduation ceremony by printing out the invitations and printing out the tickets requested per graduate. There were a couple of other kids helping out during this process. A week before my graduation I was designing my cap. In the course of this period, I was obsessed with the show FRIENDS so I wanted my cap to do with the show. Since all of the episodes titles started off with “The One Where…” I decided to put on my cap “The One Where I Graduate”. Finally on June 7th, 2018, it was graduation day. At my house my parents and my brother were all getting ready, my dad was making breakfast, my mom was getting ready, my brother was taking a shower, and I was ironing my gown. An hour went by and most of us were ready. Even though my mom was the first one to wake up and get ready, she somehow was the last one to be ready. After everyone was ready, we drove to Glendale High School where my graduation was taking place.

All the graduates were waiting in a separate area from the family and friends attending the ceremony. About an hour went by and family and friends had taken their seats inside the auditorium, then it was our turn to make our entrance into the auditorium to take our seats. Teachers and students made their speeches to the class, then it was time to walk across the stage. When it was my turn to walk across the stage I was relieved that I had accomplished this chapter in my life and now I can move onto the next one knowing that I graduated high school. After the commencement was over, everyone headed outside to celebrate, take pictures, say goodbye, and gave gifts which everyone usually got a teddy bear, a lei of flowers, candy or money. I saw that my aunt and uncles had made it to my graduation, they congratulated me and gave me a laptop and a printer which came in handy for college. Then when everything was over my family and I went back home and had some dinner, and the big day was over.

Both of these ceremonies are the celebration of an individual’s change of status in society, where they have left one group to another. For both of the quinceaneras that I participated in, both of the girls transitioned from girlhood into womanhood, traditionally showcasing her purity and readiness for marriage. Quinceanera’s mark and important milestone in a girl’s life. As for my graduation, I was considered a graduand (someone who is eligible to graduate, but has not yet graduated), and by the end of the ceremony I was a graduate. Graduation celebrates the many years of hard work, it also signifies the development from childhood to adulthood. Both of these rites of passages have symbols involving their celebration. In a graduation you recieve your diploma, and the turning of the tassel. In a quinceanera there are many more symbols involving the gown; which symbolizes that this young woman is now a young woman, the bible; the bible is given as a gift as a reminder that this book is something she can turn to when she is in need of advice, the changing of her flat shoes to heels etc. The first waltz with her father also represents her transition as well.

In other parts of the world such as Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru etc have very similar ceremonies to a quinceanera. In Cuba 14 couples waltz around the main girl and a boy of her choice in a choreographed waltz. In Argentina and Uruguay a message is painted on the sidewalk of the house of the girl and in Peru the ceremony begins with the girl entering with her father. These ceremonies in different parts in the world aren’t that different but they have their own little tweaks to them. In the Philippines there is a graduation for every level of education completed. In Sweden students don’t wear traditional caps, they have round caps which look like sailor/ captain hats which is called a studentmössa. The Japanese march and sing as they line up for their diplomas. So again, there are just small differences in these ceremonies.

The example of a quinceanera and a graduation both consist of similar structures that include the process of separation, transition and reincorporation. In both there are symbolic rituals involved such as the turning of a tassel, a gown, a bible, a diploma etc. To conclude, a rite of passage is essential to a person and their culture/ community to help find their purpose in society. It’s important to find your place in society, to have a sense of community to know where you belong in the world. A rite of passage helps confirm their religion, culture, and their progress in life.


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Celebration of an Individual’s Change of Status in Society. (2020, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/celebration-of-an-individuals-change-of-status-in-society/

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