The hypothetical quinceañera

The day before my 15th birthday I wrote, ‘A decade and a ½ seems old.’ 😀 It has been many, many years since I was 15, and I now find that statement to be quite funny. I never had a 15th birthday party, and since I didn’t have a party, I also don’t have any photos from my 15th birthday. This is because 15 is not a particularly special age in Asia, or in many parts of the world.

However in Latin America, the 15th birthday is a very, very big deal for teenage girls. The birthday girl is called the quinceañera, and the 15th birthday party is called fiesta de quince años in Spanish, or festa de quinze anos in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and it is celebrated in countries all over the Americas. In the past, the 15th birthday party was a way to present a girl to society, much like a debutante. It signified that the girl was ready for marriage. These days, it’s more of a celebration of the girl like a princess.

When I say that the 15th birthday party is a big deal, I mean it is a seriously big deal, like a wedding. Possibly the most famous quinceañera is Mexican teen Rubi Ibarra García who had a 15th birthday party on 26 December 2016. The video invitation to her 15th birthday party went viral on social media. More than a million people responded to the invitation saying they would attend, and Rubi’s 15th birthday party spawned many memes. In the end, thousands of people attended Rubi’s 15th birthday in La Joya, a small village in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. The village normally has a population of 200. Despite added security, one man died during the horse race and another was injured.

Since I never had a 15th birthday party, I thought it might be fun to have a hypothetical one. The dresses that quinceañeras wear are big, elaborate dresses fit for a princess. They are much like wedding dresses. Traditional colours for the quinceañera dress are white or pink, or pastel colours. But really these days, it seems like any colour is fine. For me, the age of 15 was sort of filled with teenage angst. I’m not sure I would have gone with the whole girly Barbie-type dress. Maybe that’s something I would have chosen if I was 5 years old. But if I had to pick a girly quinceañera dress for myself, I would go with this one:

Quinceañera dress from Q by Da Vinci in flamingo (style 80292).

In general, the fiesta de 15 años in every country involves dancing, usually a waltz with the birthday girl and her father. For this post, I’m concentrating on the 15th birthday party in Mexico because the Mexican fiesta de 15 años has many traditions that really resonate with me. The 15th birthday party is a transition, from being a girl to becoming a woman, and the Mexican birthday party has many symbolic touches to reflect this transition. One such element is called la ultima muñeca, or ‘the last doll’. In this tradition, the birthday girl is given a doll at her birthday party. The doll is usually wearing a similar dress to the quinceañera. This doll is the last doll that the quinceañera will play with, and the doll is a symbol that the birthday girl is now giving up childhood toys and becoming a woman.

An example of a ‘last doll’ or ‘ultima muñeca’ wearing a dress to match the quinceañera.

Another element of the Mexican fiesta de 15 años involves shoes (Finally! Were you wondering when I would get to the part about shoes?). This Mexican tradition is called ‘changing of the shoes’. During the birthday party, before the waltz, the quinceañera changes her shoes from flat shoes to high heels. These are meant to be the quinceañera‘s first high heeled shoes, and like the last doll, they are a symbol that the girl is now a woman.

I only recently found out about this ‘changing of the shoes’ tradition. If I had known about it when I was turning 15, I would have had a party just to get some new shoes. So here are some footwear options for my hypothetical 15th birthday party.

Shoe by EricDress.

This pair of shoes by Eric Dress would match the quinceañera dress, but in my opinion, the rhinestones are too bling, and the heels are too high for my 15-year-old self to realistically walk in. If I had to pick shoes for the Mexican ‘changing of the shoes,’ I would go with shoes by Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design. I would start with these flat pink Mary-Jane shoes, by Hot Chocolate Design from their Chocolaticas range. These flat shoes have silver glitter soles. Not as bling as rhinestones, but suitably shiny for a quinceañera.

Chocolaticas by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Space’).

Then, at the party, I would change from the flat shoes to these Mary-Jane high heels, also by Hot Chocolate Design.

Chocolaticas high heels by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Marie Antoinette’).

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The Mexican Day of the Dead and Mexican sandals

In conjunction with the Mexican Day of the Dead, I am writing about something Mexican this month. This post is divided into two parts – the first part is about Dia de los muertos (Day of the dead) and how it compares with Chinese traditions; and the second part is about huaraches, a traditional type of Mexican footwear.

Today is the 1st of November, which is Dia de los angelitos (Day of the little angels) in Mexico. Deceased children and babies are known as angelitos (little angels), and on the 1st of November, the spirits of dead children are believed to return. Dia de los angelitos is followed by Dia de los muertos (Day of the dead) on the 2nd of November. Spirits of dead adults are believed to return home on this day. Dia de los muertos is an important day in Mexico and is a public holiday. To prepare for this day, Mexicans clean and decorate the family tombs. They bring offerings and flowers, especially marigolds, to the tombs, because marigolds are believed to guide the spirits to their altars. Mexicans also bring food, such as a deceased loved one’s favourite food. Mexican families will have parties or picnics overnight in the graveyard, while waiting for their departed loved ones to return.

An example of an altar for Day of the Dead

An example of a Mexican altar for Day of the Dead (Photo by Leonardo Nava Jiménez).

Other activities for Dia de los muertos celebrations include parades and building altars to the dead. These altars can be built at home or at public places, like schools. On this day, Mexicans also write funny poems featuring death, and put on theatre productions of Don Juan Tenorio. Skulls and skeletons are common symbols of the Mexican Day of the Dead. There are special food associated with Day of the Dead, like chocolate or sugar skulls, used as offerings. There is also Pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a kind of sweet bun, usually baked with bones made from dough on top. In more recent years, people dress up with skull masks or in make-up resembling a skull. Prior to learning more about the Day of the Dead, I always thought of images of skulls or skeletons as something scary and frightening. But I have since learned that for Mexicans, these images do not carry the same connotations. A lot of people get confused, but this celebration is not connected with Halloween. It is a happy festival where Mexicans remember their loved ones and when their departed family members come home.

Sugar skulls for Mexican Day of the Dead (Photo by Leonardo Nava Jim

Sugar skulls for Mexican Day of the Dead (Photo by Leonardo Nava Jiménez).

Pan de muerto (bread of the dead) for Day of the dead.

Pan de muerto (bread of the dead) for Day of the dead (Photo by Leonardo Nava Jiménez).

In skull make-up for Day of the dead (Photo by Leonardo Nava Jiménez).

In skull make-up for Day of the dead (Photo by Leonardo Nava Jiménez).

It’s natural that when you come across something new, you will try and connect it with something you already know. When I first heard about Dia de los muertos, I thought it was a lot like two Chinese festivals: Ching Ming (also spelt Qing Ming), and also the Chinese ghost festival. I have since learned that while there are similarities, there are also differences.

Ching Ming (清明, literally ‘clear bright’) is a Chinese festival that occurs at the start of April. Similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead, on or around this day, Chinese people honour their dead ancestors. Chinese people visit and clean the graves of their ancestors, and bring offerings of food and tea or wine. Chinese people also pray to their ancestors at altars at home. While Mexicans will build altars for Day of the Dead, altars in Chinese homes are fixed and permanent.

Another Chinese festival is the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is on the 15th night of the 7th month in the Chinese calendar. On this day, similar to Day of the Dead, it is believed that ghosts and spirits will visit the living. For this day, Chinese people will give food offerings and burn incense. It is also common for Chinese people to burn joss paper money and burn paper versions of things, like a paper house or a paper car. By burning these paper versions, Chinese people believe that the departed spirits can use these things in the afterlife.

Chinese people burn joss paper for their departed loved ones to use in the afterlife. This joss paper money features the Lord of Hell who judges the souls of the departed.

A $500000000000 hell bank note for use in the after life. Here 'hell' means the 'afterlife'.

Chinese people burn joss paper for their departed loved ones to use. This is a $500000000000 hell bank note for use in the afterlife. Here, ‘hell’ means the ‘afterlife’.

It seems that the Mexican and Chinese festivals share many similarities, but what I think is a major difference between the two is the feeling of these festivals. The Mexican celebration is a happy one whereas the Chinese festivals are more serious and solemn, almost an obligation towards the family. There are also many taboos associated with the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival. Even the entire 7th month is considered inauspicious and some Chinese people will avoid doing things like moving house and getting married during that month. Chinese people also won’t have parties overnight in graveyards like the Mexicans. Somehow I can’t help feeling that the Mexicans have a good attitude towards death and have a sense of humour about death.

This is supposed to be a blog about footwear, so I’m meant to be writing about shoes (I just got a bit side tracked writing about other things that interested me). After a very long-winded introduction, I am actually writing about traditional Mexican sandals, called huaraches. There is also a type of Mexican food called huarache, which takes its name from the sandals. Huarache (the food) is made up of a dough base with meat, vegetable and cheese toppings. This food is called huarache because the dough takes the shape of a huarache (the sandal).

The word ‘huarache’ comes from a Mexican indigenous language, and it means ‘sandal’. This footwear is believed to be hundreds of years old, and first worn by Mexican farmers and peasants. Huaraches are a very simple form of footwear, originally made of leather with leather straps. Traditionally, huaraches had uppers made from woven leather straps. The most basic design of a huarache is of a thick sole with 3 holes made in the sole for straps that tie to the wearer’s ankles. Huaraches can be made with soles out of recycled car tyres.

A man wears huaraches on a cold winter's day.

A man wears huaraches on a cold winter’s day (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

The Tarahumara Indians, indigenous people from Northern Mexico, are well-known for long distance running. They traditionally ran long distances wearing huaraches as footwear. Here is a short video showing how the Tarahumara make huaraches with soles from old car tyres.

Mexican pointy boots

This month, I thought I would write about something Mexican, in time for Cinco de Mayo. Only for my Mexican friend to tell me that Cinco de Mayo is more of a celebration in the USA than it is in Mexico. But no matter. It is the month of May, and I’ll write about something Mexican, just because I may 🙂

Cinco de Mayo is Spanish for the 5th of May. It is celebrated (funnily enough) on the 5th of May. It commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on the 5th of May 1862. Even though the French ultimately won the war, the Mexican victory on the 5th of May was important because the French army was much better equipped and outnumbered the Mexican army. Despite this, the Mexicans still managed to defeat the French.

This month, I’m writing about a funny type of footwear from Mexico. They are called ‘botas picudas mexicanas’ (literally: Mexican pointy boots) or ‘botas tribaleras’ (tribal boots). These boots originated about 5 or 6 years ago in the north of Mexico. Matehuala, a city in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí has been credited as the birthplace of these boots.

As the name suggests, these boots are very pointy. They are leather boots with a very long, pointy tip. They are associated with tribal guarachero music, which is a type of electronic dance music. Botas tribaleras are worn by men when dancing to tribal music. It has given rise to male dance groups who wear cowboy hats, matching costumes with skinny jeans, and of course pointy boots, while dancing to this music.

But why am I writing about these boots, when you can see them in all their hilarious glory in the following short documentary.