Something worth considering: A “coming of age” celebration for our kids

Posted: July 6, 2005 in Uncategorized

I have always admired other cultures out there who celebrate the crossing over the line of demarcation from adolescence into adulthood. Here are some examples of how this rite of passage is celebrated in other cultures:


Within Judaism there is the well-known ceremony of Bar mitzvah for a boy when he turns thirteen years old and becomes recognized as a “man”. For a girl at twelve years of age she becomes a “woman”. In Judaism it is recognized that girls mature slightly ahead of boys. Judaism recognizes that these ages coincide with puberty, which in past times made them eligible for marriage.

The coming of age ceremony called a bar mitzvah (“son of the commandment” in Aramaic) is held on the Saturday (Shabbat) after a Jewish boy’s thirteenth birthday. A similar ceremony called a bat mitzvah (or bas mitzvah) is held on the Saturday closest to a Jewish girl’s twelfth birthday. However, the female coming of age ceremony is not as commonly practiced as the bar mitzvah. The bat mitzvah is recognised mostly by Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Modern Orthodox Judaism. Haredi Judaism and Hasidic Judaism only celebrate bar mitzvahs.

Australia, NZ, etc.

In Australia, New Zealand and numerous other countries, a party known as the Twenty First has long celebrated the coming of age. On their 21st birthdays, young people and their families and friends traditionally gather together for social parties where gifts are presented to the birthday boy or girl. The practice is gradually waning, primarily because the legal age of maturity has been reduced to 18, so by 21 they have already had the privileges of adulthood (the right to drink, smoke and vote) for three years.


In traditional Hispanic cultures there is a tradition very similar to that of the Bat Mitzvah in the Jewish faith. The Quinceañera (Fifteenth Birthday) for young Latin women is a rite of passage signifying that she has reached the age of adulthood. The event is marked by a large celebration and a event called the candle lighting ceremony which acts as a more spiritual mark to their achievement. This tradition is based on societal views of youth as well as faith.


Japan, since 1948, has held an annual ceremony called the Coming-of-Age Day (成人の日; seijin no hi), the second Monday of January, for those becoming 20 years old in the new calendar year. Until 1999, the day was held on January 15. The day is a national holiday, and local governments generally hold some sort of ceremony. Women often wear furisode, a traditional Japanese formal kimono with long sleeves. Men usually wear suits, though some wear traditional Japanese clothes. At this age, the right to smoke, drink, and vote is granted . It was known as genpuku (see the section below) among samurai in the past.


In Japan, Gempuku (元服) was a celebration that showed a samurai was considered to be an adult. The age of gempuku varied from 12 to 18.

Upon reaching this age, men usually changed their names from their birth names to adult names, changed their hair styles to an adult style by shaving the forelocks, received their first swords, and began to be treated as adults. They separated from their mothers or governesses, and they became able to take on the dominant role in shudo (male-male love) relationships. Some were even given a territory to rule. No samurai was allowed to marry before gempuku, though they could be engaged. There was no gempuku or equivalent ceremony for women. On rare occasions, gempuku was held for someone younger than 12 for the purpose of marriage. Marriage at this age was for political purposes.

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 effect is both humourous and frightening. The name Kovave is also used to describe the head-dress.

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Unfortuantely because of slavery, these types of traditions have become lost to black Americans of today. However, this does not mean that we cannot institute this type of celebration in our families today. If you are tired of just getting with the family only when someone dies or gets married, then this might be something worth implementing in your own family. I am certainly planning to do the same thing with ours.

The reason why I feel strongly about this practice is because it really helps kids to understand that getting older does involve real responsibilities. I think we send a clear message to our kids when they reach 12 to 15 years old when we just give them and Xbox or Playstaion for their birthday. This is one of the main reasons why so many of our kids today fear growing up—especially our young men.

Here are just some quick ideas that I am personally considering for my kids:

For my son

#Maybe start off the day with a breakfast in his honor with the men in our family (uncles, cousins, grandfathers–may also include close family friends as well). This will be a time where these men can impart some wisdom

#At some point in the day have him get with the women in the family so that they too can impart some wisdom

#The evening will be the main celebration complete with keynote speaker (either myself or someone I feel that could really communicate the importance of the event), DJ, food, dancing, games, etc.

#Gifts given at this event will be meaningful gifts (anything from a piece of art, stocks, bonds, money towards college, property, etc.)

#The following day could be something that he does himself (something that personifies “adulthood”– This should be something fun that requires responsibility on his part).

As for my daughter, pretty much the same as above except maybe she would start off the day with the women in the family.

I know that over the years this outline will probably change somewhat as I get more ideas. I just wanted to put this out there in hopes it would encourage some of you to perhaps do something similar for your children.

  1. DarkStar says:

    There are similiar rites of passage programs in some communities in the U.S.

    Thatnks for the reminder. I have to ask about them…

  2. GforU says:

    I think it’s a great idea to celebrate and honor becoming an adult as a rite-of-passage and I like your ideas. I grew up in a Jewish community and in 8th grade there were Bat/Bar Mitzvah’s almost every Saturday. My Catholic friends had first communion celebrations. As a protestant I felt left out! Now that I am a parent of two boys, I agree that there is a value in making sure they realize the responsibilities of getting older and marking that in a special way. THanks for the good ideas!

  3. Precious says:

    is there a name for the coming of age for African American kids..? I know that they have this new thing out in CALI called” FAUX MITZVAH” for non-Jewish people…is it right to use that…or could we come up with a name for our group like C.O.A. Mitzvah…or something? I wanted to know because I have a person (African American) who insist on have a Bar Mitzvah for their son….please help!!!

  4. Duane says:


    As far as name goes, as individuals we should call it what we want. Unlike the Jews who have strong ties to their ancient heritage, black Americans do not have any real cultural ties to Africa (as evident by the fact we generally do not celebrate African holidays, speak any of the languages, etc.) In fact, most of us are not 100% African decent anyway.

    If you want to emphasize the “cultural” thing, my suggestion would be one of two: Have the family create their own culture in the celebration. We do this all the time at family reunions. Have “unc” so-and-so tell one of his funny stories, the “techie” in the family to put together a short video, Uncles and Aunts who are known for their cooking–have them cook. Yu could also have the “historian” of the family give a brief synopsis of where the family came from, what they had to endure, etc.

    The other thing you could do is kinda the same as I mentioned above, but also incorporate some African traditions and any other ethnicity your family identifies with (for example, many blacks who can trace their roots back to the south have Native American in their blood.)

    The greatest thing you can do is doing the “create your own culture” route. This will be a lot more memorable than all the African chants in the world. Save the “African” piece for another time. Chances are, they will forget most of it in that forum;however, they will remember grandmama telling one of those stories she has never told before.

    Again, be free to call the ceremony whatever you like. The last I checked, there isn’t a “black” name for spaghetti. Calling it a “Bar” or “Bat” Mitzvah should not be an issue.

  5. Precious says:

    okay thanks….I am not good with names…but my client wanted something that says someting about their hertiage and also religious….I think about ….”MY “UNYAGO” COMING OF AGE CELEBRATION ….so the next person can just substute the swahili word for what ever the child want and then the words “coming of age celebration

  6. […] ance centuries of racism against qualified minorities. -Chris Gill On the post entitled “Something worth considering: A “c […]

  7. kk says:

    I have been thinking about this for ahwile for my children as well. I have a question- How does Debutante and or Cotillions relate to African americans, besides the fact it is southern traditional?

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