7 Coming of Age Traditions Around The World

May 5, 2022
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Rosalia Singer

Flickr: Frédéric SALEIN

Middle finger to your thumb and then you snap it, just like magic as Ariana Grande would say.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is one of the most important milestones in one’s life. It’s a life-changing experience where you feel as if the world is at your fingertips. One moment you are happily playing with your toys, the next you are confidently trying to pass your driving test. Not to mention the constant mix of emotions, some stress and anxiety here and there, and the inevitable physical changes. And hey, that’s okay! That is part of life and we all go through it. Just make sure to be kind and to take care of yourself.

In the 2022 Pixar movie called Turning Red, you witness a coming-of-age story of a girl named Mei, a Chinese-Canadian teenager who is living in Toronto. One morning as Mei wakes up, she finds herself transformed into a red fuzzy and cuddly panda. Little does she know that her transformation was the beginning of her burgeoning hormones that could make or break her relationship with her friends and family.

Unfortunately, my lips are sealed for more information. However, one thing that the movie reminds you of is that growing up is a roller coaster ride of emotions and an uphill battle of decision making. It’s a balancing act of discovering yourself and learning how to grow up, all while accepting the feelings that come with it. Sounds a lot, does it not? Even though the journey might get confusing and challenging, just remember to trust the process and live your possibly cringe teenage life.

The question now is: when do you start to really feel like an adult? And when do you really become an adult?

There is no right or wrong answer. And that’s because the answer differs from person to person. Some say you can start to really feel like an adult when you get your first job. Others might say that you really become like an adult when you’ve reached that legal age and gained independence. However, part of the feeling and becoming like an adult could probably start with the celebration of a coming of age tradition for many people.

In different cultures, coming-of-age ceremonies vary. Some are celebrated to make the celebrant feel like a princess while others are to highlight the strength of the person. These celebrations, may it be an old tradition or a modern custom, are beautiful and memorable. So how does the rest of the world honor the transition from childhood to adulthood? Let’s find out!

Latin America: Quinceañera

Quinceañera is celebrated in countries all over Latin America. It is a celebration held when a girl reaches the age of 15, commemorating her transition from girlhood to womanhood. The event is both a religious and a social affair. It usually begins with a mass where the celebrant, family and the godparents are invited for a church blessing. Then a reception is held where friends and loved ones are invited to join the party. Some practices of the tradition include gifting a porcelain doll to a younger sister and the transition of wearing flats to high heels to symbolize adulthood.

In Argentina, Perú, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia, the quinceañera is known as “fiesta de Quince.” One of the most important parts of the celebration is the Ceremony of the 15 Candles, in which the celebrant offers one candle to each of the 15 people she feels to be extremely important and highly influential in her life.

In Brazil, it is referred to as festa de debutantes or festa de quinze anos. On this important occasion, the birthday girl is expected to dance with one boy her age and with every male family member.

Tanzania and Kenya: The Maasai Coming of Age Ceremony

The Maasai Tribe lives in northern, central, and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. One of the tribe's most important and life-changing ceremonies is their initiation ceremony which commemorates the boys' passage to manhood, and this takes place once every five to ten years. The tribe elders bless the young initiates by spraying them with milk and beer during the ceremony.

All of the males between the ages of 9 and 15 are painted with ochre (a deep red color made from clay), and those chosen to be the group's future leaders have extensive white patterns on their faces and bodies. The initiates also wear the traditional red blanket, black sandals, and colorful beads and bracelets. Within five years, the young men will be circumcised and recognized as Maasai warriors or morans, who are known to the brave and strong men to defend the Maasai community.

Japan: Seijin no Hi (成人の日 or Coming of Age Day)

Seijin no Hi holiday is celebrated in Japan on the second Monday of January each year. The public holiday, also known as Adults Day, is celebrated all over Japan to congratulate those who turned 20 years old the previous year.

On this special occasion, most Japanese men wear a suit and tie; however, others opt for a simple kimono with hakama, a type of traditional Japanese clothing. On the other hand, Japanese women usually wear a beautiful and colorful furisode, a traditional style of kimono with dangling sleeves, and zōri sandals. Furisodes are very expensive, and so many of the celebrants rent them or wear one that has been passed down in the family. In fact, because wearing a kimono can be challenging, many people visit a salon for assistance and help in perfecting their hair and makeup.

Apache Tribe: The Sunrise Ceremony

The Apache Tribe’s coming of age ceremony happens when a young Apache girl hits puberty, in celebration of her transition to womanhood. The “Rite of Passage” is a four-day spiritual ceremony with lots of dancing, singing, and rituals in which her family and the entire community participate.

During the four sacred days, the girl dresses like and is referred to as the White Painted Woman. Throughout the ceremony, the girl must follow all rules and restrictions, such as “not washing her own skin or drinking from anything other than her own tube.” The ceremony is a major event for both the girl and the tribe members who do a lot of hard labor, such as building a large teepee and starting fires. Every night ends with a dance and on the fourth night, the dancing lasts all morning, to mark the strength of the young woman.

North Baffin Island: Inuit Coming of Age Tradition

The Inuit boys in North Baffin Island of Canada, between the ages of 11 to 12 go out to the wilderness with their fathers to test their hunting skills and learn to adapt to the arctic weather. Now, young Inuit girls are taught the tradition as a way to pass down skills that both men and women practice from generation to generation. Outcamps have also been created for young Inuit children to learn, practice, and preserve the cultural traditions of the tribe.

Philippines: Debut

In the Philippines, a girl's coming-of-age ceremony is known as a debut. The grand ball is celebrated on a large scale with family and friends when the girl turns 18. During the extravagant ceremony, the debutante is usually accompanied by an entourage of multiple sets of 18. Most of the time, the debutante features a program called 18 candles and 18 roses, in which she and her chosen entourage perform a rehearsed cotillion.

Nowadays, modern debuts combine old traditions with new customs. For some, a modern debut will include themes like The Great Gatsby, Parisian, Galaxy, Bohemian, Candyland, and many others. And instead of the usual 18 Candles and 18 Roses program, the debutante will choose the 18 Treasures program, in which she will receive 18 gifts that will help her in reaching her goals throughout her life.

Sri Lanka: Tamil Puberty Ceremon

Puberty rituals are celebrated in Tamil culture in Sri Lanka during the girl's first period. This rite of passage is widely recognized as an important part of the girl's initial stages of womanhood. When a girl's mother notices that her daughter has begun her period, she usually consults a family astrologer for a prediction of the daughter's future and to determine when the bathing ritual should be performed.

Before her bathing ritual, the girl is forced to stay in a room away from the public in order to ward off evil spirits and she is also forbidden from socializing with men and boys. During her bathing ritual, a clay pot filled with water and jasmine flowers is poured over the girl; in other cultures, she is bathed in saffron and milk. After the bathing ritual, she is dressed in new clothes, like a new saree, and is expected to wear ancestral jewelry for the first time. At the end of the celebration, a feast of full traditional Sri Lankan foods is laid out for the girl as she accepts gifts from her relatives and neighbors.

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