Milestone Birthday Traditions
Cultures around the world honor their young members with coming of age rituals, traditions and ceremonies. These often include pageantry and lengthy preparation, and carry religious significance. Traditions vary, but the one thing they all have in common is the celebration of a child’s transition into adulthood.
Bat and Bar Mitzvah
Jewish girls and boys participate in the bat mitzvah (for girls) and the bar mitzvah (for boys). Girls celebrate at age 12; boys at age 13. The term "bar mitzvah" means "son of the commandment" and the term "bat" translates from Hebrew/Aramaic to the word daughter. The bat and bar mitzvah is the time Jewish children become obligated to observe the commandments. This rite of passage is marked with a religious ceremony, and often a large reception or party follows.
Khatam Al Koran
The 11th birthday is special in Malaysia for Muslim girls. They participate in a ritual called the Khatam Al Koran. The girls prepare arduously for this prestigious coming of age ceremony that allows them to show their maturity and spiritual growth. The final chapter of the Koran is memorized and recited before their family and friends in the mosque.
On the Oceanian island nation of Vanuatu, boys as young as 7 and 8 prove their bravery with a coming of age tradition that requires them to jump off a 98-foot tower with a vine attached to their ankles to prevent slamming into the ground. The vine doesn’t have the elasticity of a bungee rope and must be calculated precisely to keep the child from injury or death. Coming of age rituals around the world often subject youth to potential harm, and the Vanuatu people use this ritual as a way for young boys to prove the manliness to their family and community.
In Spanish-speaking Latin countries as well as the United States, the Quinceañera celebrates a girl’s transition from childhood to maturity. Held on the 15th birthday, the Quinceañera typically begins with a mass where the celebrant renews her baptismal vows. The religious ceremony is then followed by an elaborate reception, often as grand as a bridal reception. The celebrant wears a ball gown and Quinceañera tiara and is accompanied by a court of young men and women who often perform intricately choreographed dances as a group underneath her very own Quinceañera banner. Depending on the country, region or family, various traditions may also be followed during the celebration.
Coming of age ceremonies sometimes encompass more than just a one-day event. The youth of the Amish community typically experience Rumspringa at age 16 and before baptism. It is the period when a young Amish boy or girl has the opportunity to experience freedom and experiment with activities and lifestyles not found in the Amish community. Rumspringa lasts from age 16 until marriage, which generally occurs between the ages of 20 and 22. Rumspringa activities vary immensely among communities, but most Amish youth use this as a time to date among their peer group, stay out later on weekends and even go to the movies and indulge in non-Amish activities.
Youth in Japan mark their coming of age on the second Monday of January in their 20th year. They dress in their finest attire, participate in a special ceremony at their local city offices and then celebrate with a party, receiving gifts from family and friends. After Seijin-no-Hi, they are considered adults and part of Japanese society with the right to vote and legally drink alcohol.
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