The transition from little girl into mature woman is one of the greatest journeys of adolescence. Although it may seem scary, being initiated and welcomed into adult society is actually a cause for great celebration! It’s not necessarily the easiest time of life. But, it’s certainly one to be proud of and something every teenager must go through, which is why Coming of Age ceremonies are so significant.
Though everyone experiences this passage into adulthood, not all acknowledge it in the same way. In western cultures, this transition is sometimes marked by a sweet 16 party, a graduation ceremony or maybe even a debutante ball. But for the most part, the modern western world has abandoned the traditional rituals surrounding a teenager’s “rite of passage.”
So what about the rest of the world? For many cultures, becoming an adult is an incredibly significant moment in a young girl’s life. It marks a girl’s transformation into a woman, and introduces her as a fully responsible member of society. This momentous occasion is often celebrated in very particular ways.
Coming of Age in Latin America: Quinceanera
In Latin America, the day a girl turns 15 isn’t just another birthday. Instead, it’s considered one of the most important days of her life. As the official moment of maturity and entrance into womanhood, this special celebration dates back to ancient times. A Quinceanera officially recognizes a girl’s readiness to marry and begin life as a full-grown woman.
After a traditional Catholic ceremony in which a priest teaches on the responsibilities of adulthood, a grand party is held for friends and family. Very much like a wedding reception in the United States, guests at a quinceanera wear their most extravagant gowns, dine on customary Hispanic food and even witness a heartfelt waltz between the birthday girl and her father.
Coming of Age in North America: The Sunrise Ceremony of the Apache Tribe
For the Apache Indians, the proper recognition of a young girl’s maturity is essential to her passage into adult life. This momentous time is celebrated with a four day event called a Sunrise Ceremony. A young woman is taught the history of her people and the importance of her womanhood.
Day one begins at dawn. While the elders of the tribe sing outside a ceremonial lodge, the guest of honor is dressed in traditional Apache buckskin and beautiful jewelry passed down from earlier generations. She is then sprinkled with cattail pollen and led outside. Now she will run around a basket filled with fruit, candy, nuts and money. She’ll circle this basket four times, representing the four stages of life (infancy, childhood, adulthood and old age). This also represents the journey of the White Painted Women – the Apache figure of motherhood. Afterwards, the young girl returns to the ceremonial lodge where her godmother teaches her various aspects of adulthood. On the final night, now educated on the ways of her tribe, the new woman closes the ceremony by dancing from sunset to sunrise while the tribal elders sing.
Coming of Age in China: Hair Pinning Ceremony
As with other aspects of Chinese culture, modern coming of age celebrations are derived from ancient ceremonies and customs. Perhaps the most significant ritual in a young girl’s life is the hair pinning ceremony. This is an event that dates back to the time of Confucius. Although rites of passage comes at the age of 20 for boys, girls experience it at the age of 15.
In the center of a beautiful temple courtyard, the ceremony begins. The honored girls wash their hands in a golden bowl to symbolize the washing away of bad habits. To mark the end of childhood, they crawl under a wooden table placed on a stage. In ancient Chinese culture, a girl’s hair symbolized beauty or purity and was considered one of her most valuable assets. In the Ji-li (or Hair Pinning) ceremony, the pinning up of this beautiful hair is meant to acknowledge a new time of life in which full maturity is achieved.
As all of these ceremonies demonstrate that coming of age is one of life’s greatest blessings. Though the celebration is important, the true value comes in learning lessons from those who know the ropes. Whether we learn from our mothers, grandmothers or even tribal elders, these lessons teach us that being a woman is not just about being allowed to marry or start a family. Rather, it is about growing in maturity, strengthening character and learning to be the women God intended us to be.