I'm a professional wedding and quinceanera/sweet sixteen photographer. I absolutely love photographing a quinceanera/sweet sixteen event. I get this question all the time: What is a quinceanera and why is it still celebrated?
There are various forms of what is essentially a "coming out party". This was a common cultural practice in the Victorian times. Back then a girl was considered a women at a much earlier age (15 or 16) and their family would host a coming out party to present her to the community as a grown women. It symbolizes a girl taking on the responsibilities of a women. Usually there was also a religious ceremony where the girl would be blessed by her local church.
For the Spanish and Latin American culture it is called a quinceanera.
For American culture it is most commonly known as a sweet sixteen.
Also many Indian, and Caribbean or South American Indian descent (Trinidad and Guyana in particular), call it a sweet sixteen.
Why are these parties still held today? Tradition. Unfortunately it is a dying tradition that I strive to keep alive since I am of Latin American descent. The women in my Mother's family and their family before her kept with the tradition, and I plan to do the same. It is supposed to be a family celebration, a time of remembrance from when the quinceanera was born to the present, and a thanks to God for blessing the family with the child. I think MTV's show "Sweet Sixteen" has really ruined the outlook of what the real purpose of this type of celebration is supposed to be. It is not supposed to be a "look at me I am so cool", "I'm such a diva", or "I'm spoiled rotten", party.
Today I am actually photographing a quinceanera. I will post a few of the photos later.