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The Meaning of Xilonen

Filed Under: Education, Family, Featured, Immigrants, Youth

Many of us are familiar with the quinceañera, the event celebrating a girl’s 15th birthday and her transition to womanhood. The typical quinceañera often includes a visit to church, followed by a party. However, long before the tradition of quinceañeras and the conquest of Mexico and Latino America, indigenous communities marked this time of transition with a ceremony called Xilonen. Xilonen represents the young Aztec goddess of maize or new corn. The Xilonen ceremony takes place when girls experience their first moon cycle, and is a spiritual coming-of-age tradition for young women. Once you complete the Xilonen ceremony, women are referred to as Xilonen for the rest of their lives.

Unlike quinceañera celebrations of today, Xilonen ceremonies are much more spiritual and intimate. Most young women who participate in the Xilonen ceremony have been invited. The young girls and their parents prepare for months—even up to a year—for the two-day ceremony. Preparation might include participating in sweat lodges or other cleansing and spiritual healing activities. At the vigil on the first night of the ceremony, the Xilonen often prepare for the transition by receiving offerings of flowers, candles and food, while sage and copal remains lit throughout the night. Participating elders may sing, play musical instruments, or share stories from the past. The young women must demonstrate a reasonable level of maturity to complete the event as they will become role models for the girls that follow them. During this ceremony, elders and other Xilonen provide advice to the girls about embracing healthy lifestyles and contributing to their communities. The Xilonen are expected to model a healthy life and pass these values on to other young women. To this day, the Xilonen ceremonies bring the entire community together to acknowledge this important time in the lives of young women.

Across time, Xilonen has remained a traditional act of empowerment for young women. It provides a strong reminder to young women that they are part of a strong cultural tradition, that they can make meaningful contributions to their community, and that their leadership, wisdom, and advice can help young women who will follow them.

IFR is an annual sponsor of the San Francisco Xilonen ceremony. This year, the Xilonen ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 18, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. Victoria Manalo Draves Park.

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