Coming of age

Coming of age

Coming of age is a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. The age at which this transition takes place varies in society, as does the nature of the transition.[1] It can be a simple legal convention or can be part of a ritual, as practiced by many societies. In the past, and in some societies today, such a change are associated with the age of sexual maturity (Early-Adolescence); in others, it is associated with an age of religious responsibility. Particularly in western societies, modern legal conventions which stipulate points in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 16-21 when adolescents are generally no longer considered minors and are granted the full rights of an adult) are the focus of the transition. In either case, many cultures retain ceremonies to confirm the coming of age, and significant benefits come with the change. (See also rite of passage.)




Turning 15, the "age of maturity," as the Baha'i faith terms it, it is a time when a child is considered spiritually mature and is responsible stating, on his/her own behalf whether or not he/she wishes to remain a member of the Baha'i community. Declared Baha'is are expected to begin observing certain Baha'i laws, such as obligatory prayer and fasting.[2]


Theravada boys who are just under the age of 20 years old undergo a Shinbyu ceremony, where they are initiated into the Temple.


In many Christian denominations, a young person celebrates his/her Coming of Age with the Sacrament of Confirmation. Eastern Orthodoxy, which gives Confirmation to infants, directly after baptism, is an important exception. This is usually done by the Bishop laying his hands upon the foreheads of the young person (usually between the ages of 12 to 15 years), and marking them with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

In Christian traditions that practice Believer's Baptism (baptism by voluntary decision, as opposed to baptism in early infancy), the ritual can be carried out after the age of accountability has arrived. Some traditions withhold the rite of Holy Communion from those not yet at the age of accountability, on the grounds that children do not understand what the sacrament means. Full membership in the Church, if not bestowed at birth, often must wait until the age of accountability and frequently is granted only after a period of preparation known as catechesis. The time of innocence before one has the ability to understand truly the laws of God and that God sees one as innocent is also seen as applying to individuals who suffer from a mental disability which prevents them from ever reaching a time when they are capable of understanding the laws of God. These individuals are thus seen as existing in a perpetual state of innocence by the grace of God.


Historically, the Confucian coming of age ceremony has been the "Guan Li" for men and the "Ji Li" for women. The age are usually around 20 and during the ceremony, the person obtains a style name. These ceremonies are now rarely practiced in China, but there has been a resurgence, especially from those who are sympathetic to the Hanfu Movement.

Hermeticism (Greek Paganism)

In certain states in Ancient Greece, such as Sparta and Crete, adolescent boys were expected to enter into a mentoring relationship with an adult man, in which they would be taught skills pertaining to adult life, such as hunting, martial arts, and fine arts.


In Hinduism coming of age generally signifies that a boy or girl are mature enough to understand his responsibility towards family and society. Hinduism also has the sacred thread ceremony for Dvija (twice-born) boys that marks their coming of age to do religious ceremonies. Women often celebrate their coming to age by having a ceremony. This ceremony includes dressing them with sari, and announcing their maturity to the community.


In the Jewish faith, boys reach religious maturity at age thirteen and become bar mitzvah, "Son of the Commandments". Girls mature earlier at age twelve and become bat mitzvah, "Daughter of the Commandments".[3]


Children are not required to perform any obligatory acts of Islamic Teachings prior to reaching the age of puberty, although they should be encouraged to begin praying at the age of seven. Before reaching puberty it is recommended to pray in obeisance to God and to exemplify Islamic customs, but as soon as one exhibits any characteristic of puberty, that person is required to perform the prayers and other obligations of Islam.[4]


In the Shinto faith, boys reach religious maturity between the ages of 11 to 17, with a Genpuku ceremony. Girls receive a ceremony called mogi, between the ages of 12 – 14 years of age.


In Sikhism, when one reaches the appropriate age of maturity, Amrit is consumed in a ceremony called Amrit Sanchar or Khanda-ki-Pahul

Non-religious traditions

In some countries Humanist or freethinker organisations have arranged courses or camps for non-religious adolescents, in which they can study or work on ethical, social and personal topics important for adult life, followed by a formal rite of passage comparable to the Christian Confirmation. Some of these ceremonies are even called "civil confirmations". The purpose of these ceremonies is to offer a festive ritual for those youngsters, who do not believe in any religion, but nevertheless want to mark their transition from childhood to adulthood.

Cultural rituals exclusive to nations

Australia, NZ, UK, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine and Scandinavia

The coming of age in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Ukraine, the Republic of Poland and the Scandinavian Countries are celebrated at either 18 or 21. As the age of legal majority, being 18 legally enables one to vote, purchase tobacco and alcohol (wine in Norway), get married without parental consent (16 in Scotland, England & Wales and as civil marriage in Ukraine) and sign contracts. In comparison, turning 21 has few legal effects (except Poland & Ukraine, where all the laws are applied after 18). Eighteenth or twenty-first birthday celebrations typically take the form of an extravagant party; presents given are often higher than usual value, and champagne may be served, as at other formal celebrations. There are few set ceremonies or rituals to be observed, although if the celebrant is a male he may be challenged to consume a yard glass which is typically full of beer.

Drinking plays a large part in 18th birthdays, as it is the age where one can legally purchase alcohol. As such, many 18th birthdays are celebrated with a large party with friends, with drinking as a central motif. Despite 18 being the legal age of adulthood, most do not immediately take on the roles of adult, such as moving out of home or gaining full-time employment, instead studying or working as an apprentice. At New Zealand and Australian 21st birthdays, it is customary for family members to assemble embarrassing photos, videos or other childhood memorabilia to display at a celebration.

Latin America

In some Latin American countries, when a woman reaches the age of 15, her relatives organize a very expensive celebration. It is usually a large party, called a Quinceañera in Spanish speaking countries and Baile de Debutantes in Brazil.

North America

In the United States, Mexico and in Canada, when a woman reaches the age of 16, her relatives will sometimes organize a large, very expensive party, called a Sweet Sixteen. (Young men may also get a similar celebration for their 16th or 18th birthday.)


In Spain during the 19th century, there was a civilian coming of age bound to the compulsory military service. The quintos were the boys of the village that reached the age of eligibility for military service (18 years), thus forming the quinta of a year. In rural Spain, the mili was the first and sometimes the only experience of life away from family. In the days before their departure, the quintos knocked every door to ask for food and drink. They held a common festive meal with what they gathered and sometimes painted some graffiti reading "Vivan los quintos del año" as a memorial of their leaving their youth. Years later, the quintos of the same year could still hold yearly meals to remember times past. By the end of the 20th century, the rural exodus, the diffusion of city customs and the loss of prestige of military service changed the relevance of quintos parties. In some places, the party included the village girls of the same age, thus becoming less directly relevant to military service. In others, the tradition was simply lost.


Since 1948, the age of majority in Japan has been 20; persons under 20 are not permitted to smoke, drink, or vote. Coming-of-age ceremonies, known as seijin shiki, are held on the second Monday of January. At the ceremony, all of the men and women participating are brought to a government building and listen to many speakers, similar to a graduation ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the government gives the new adults money.

Papua New Guinea

Kovave is a ceremony to initiate Papua New Guinea boys into adult society. It involves dressing up in a conical hat which has long strands of leaves hanging from the edge, down to below the waist. The name Kovave is also used to describe the head-dress.


During the feudal period, the coming of age was celebrated at 15 for noblemen. Nowadays, the age is 18 for girls and 20 for boys.


In Bali, the coming of age ceremony is supposed to take place after a girl's first menstrual period or a boy's voice breaks. However, due to expense, it is often delayed until later. The upper canines are filed down slightly to symbolize the effacing of the individual's "wild" nature.


In the rite of initiation of Baka Pygmies, the Spirit of the Forest ritually kills the boys to propitiate their rebirth as men. The Italian anthropologist Mauro Campagnoli took part in this secret rite of men's initiation in order to better understand its meaning. He became a member of a baka patrilinear clan and completed his trans-cultural coming of age.


In Korea, Monday of the third week of May is "coming-of-age day". Also the choice to marry, to drink alcohol, to smoke, to vote, and to drive is when you are 19 (20 at the most). As a tradition on that day people are usually to receive three gifts. Flowers, perfume and a kiss.

South Africa

In South Africa, traditionally a person's 21st birthday is considered their welcome into adulthood.[who?] A large party with family and friends is normally organized. The father of the new adult will usually give a speech to celebrate that person's life so far. Another tradition is to embarrass the young adult through baby photos.[citation needed] This is preformed with face makeup while wearing warm clothing, such as foopklees.


In the Philippines, a coming of age celebration for 18 year olds (particularly the women) known as a "debut" is popular. It is a formal affair, often a coat and tie occasion for the upper-middle to upper class population. The débutante, by tradition, chooses "18 roses" (18 special men or boys in the girl's life like friends, relatives, and brothers) and "18 candles" (female counterpart). Other variations in less formal setups exist, but the significance of "18" is almost always kept.

Filipino men, on the other hand, celebrate theirs on their 21st birthday. There is no traditionally celebrated program for this, and the celebration differs from family to family.

Professional initiatory rituals


Medical school

White coat ceremony


In many universities of Europe, South America and India, first year students are made to undergo tests or humiliation before being accepted as students. Perhaps the oldest of these is "Raisin Monday"[5] at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. It is still practiced. A senior student would take a new student, a "bejant" or "bejantine" under his wing and show them round the university. In gratitude, the bejant would give the senior student a pound of raisins. In turn this led to bejants being given receipts in Latin. If a bejant failed to produce the receipt, he could be thrown into a fountain. The word bejant derives from "bec jaune" (a yellow beak, or fledgling).

Universities in Chile follow an annual ritual called "Mechoneo" (the act of pulling somebody's hair). First year students are initiated by theatrical "punishment". Freshmen are tied together while upperclassmen throw eggs, flour, water, etc. Some universities have traditional ways of initiating freshmen.

Fraternities and sororities

Fraternities and sororities have different processes for associate members, also known as pledges, to become a member. It usually takes place with one or more ritual that is specific to that organization.

Printing industry

Among apprentices, the step from apprentice to journeyman was often marked by some ceremonial humiliation. Among printers this lasted until the twentieth century. The unfortunate young man would be "banged out" by being covered in offal.

Japanese corporate entrance ceremony

In large Japanese corporations, all employees who enter the company from college or high school in the same year attend an entrance ceremony. Attendees are required to arrive early, sit in assigned seats, and wear company-approved clothing with an approved haircut. A member of the group is chosen to give a speech, and everyone sings the company song.

See also



  1. ^ New York Times
  2. ^ [1],
  3. ^ Bar & Bat Mitzvah
  4. ^ "Islamic obligations at puberty". IslamWeb. October 25, 2001. Retrieved October 12, 2009. 
  5. ^

External links

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