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. 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 is associated with the age of sexual maturity (mid-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 17, 18 and 21, at which time 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.)
The term coming of age is also used in reference to different media such as stories, songs, movies, etc. that have a young character or characters who, by the end of the story, have developed in some way, through the undertaking of responsibility, or by learning a lesson.
Religious coming of age
Age of accountability
This is the age at which a child is old enough to understand the moral consequences of his or her actions and can be held accountable for sins. It is also called the 'age of reason.' Though it does not correspond to a particular age for every person, due to differences in personal and psychological maturation, it is sometimes set down arbitrarily as 12 or, in the Roman Catholic Church, 7; the latter convention gave rise to the English common-law presumption that no child under the age of seven could possess the mens rea necessary for commission of a felony. Latter-day Saints believe that the resurrected Jesus Christ revealed to Joseph Smith, Jr. that children are accountable at the age of 8 and should be baptized at that age.
The concept of the age of accountability is not based upon any direct teaching from the Bible, but stems from individual church traditions. A child who has passed the age of accountability is said to know the difference between right and wrong and to be capable of obeying the moral laws of God. Some Christian traditions believe that the age of accountability is the end of a period of early grace (prevenient grace, in Wesleyan traditions) which covers over the sins of those not capable of knowing the moral consequences of their actions (persons who, due to developmental disability, mental or emotional development, will never reach a sufficient level of abstract reason, are covered by this grace for life and are sometimes known as 'the innocents'). In Christian traditions which 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.
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, fine arts and philosophy.
In Hinduism coming of age generally signifies that a boy or girl is 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 a sari, and announcing their maturity to the community.
Tamilians perform an occasion called Manjal Neerattu Vizha, to celebrate their daughter attaining adulthood. They invite their relatives and neighbours for the proceedings and formally announce it. The purpose of the ceremony is to provide awareness to the daughter about the changes that will proceed, and also to make them clear about Do s and Don't s, they should follow. The girls will be made to wear the traditional dress sai, and they are showered with turmeric water, during the occasion.
In the Jewish faith, boys come of age at thirteen and have a celebration known as bar mitzvah to celebreate their coming of age. Jewish girls however, come of age at twelve in a celebration known as bat mitzvah. The bat mitzvah is very similar to a bar mitzvah.
Children are not required to perform any obligatory acts of Sharia 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 practice Sharia rituals in obeisance to Allah 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 Sharia.
Non-religious coming of age 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, New Zealand and the United Kingdom
The coming of age in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom is celebrated at either 18 or 21. Eighteenth birthday parties are becoming increasingly common. As the age of legal majority, being 18 legally enables one to vote, drink, get married without parental consent (16 in Scotland and England) and sign contracts. In comparison, turning 21 has few legal effects. 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 drink. 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, many Australians 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. This accounts for the distinction between the atmospheres and 21sts being a more transitional and reflective celebrations. At Australian 21sts, it is customary for parents and siblings to assemble embarrassing photos, videos, voice recordings or other childhood memorabilia to display at a celebration.
In some countries of the cultural region known as Latin America there is a tradition very similar to that of the Bat mitzvah in the Jewish faith. For a young woman, Quinceañera, Los Quince or La Fiesta de Quince (Fifteenth Birthday or The Party of the Fifteenth Birthday) is a rite of passage signifying that she has reached the age of adulthood. The event is marked by a large celebration and a candle lighting ceremony, which acts as a more spiritual mark to her achievement. This tradition is based on societal views of youth and faith.
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.
Historically, the Chinese coming of age ceremony has been the Guan Li for men and the Ji Li for women. The age is usually 20 and during the ceremony, the person obtains a style name. These ceremonies are now rarely practiced in China, but there has been a recent resurgence, especially from those who are sympatheic to the Hanfu movement.
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 effect is both humorous and frightening. 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, Indonesia, 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"..
In South Africa, traditionally a person's 21st birthday is considered their welcome into adulthood. A large party with family and friends and a lot of alcohol is normally organized, as well as the father of the new adult giving a speech to celebrate that person's life so far. Another tradition is to embarrass the young adult through baby photos.
Professional initiatory rituals
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". 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 him or her 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 and water. Every university has its traditional way of initiating freshmen.
Fraternities and sororities
Fraternities and sororities use various means of rituals on their pledges before allowing them admission.
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 Doctrine and Covenants 68:25, 27.
- "Islamic obligations at puberty". IslamWeb. October 25, 2001. http://www.islamweb.net/ver2/Fatwa/ShowFatwa.php?lang=E&Id=83431&Option=FatwaId. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
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