Coming of age

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Coming of age is a young person's formal transition from adolescence to adulthood. The age at which this transition takes places varies in society, as does the nature of the transition. It can be a simple legal convention or can be part of a ritualistic cycle, similar to those once 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) while modern legal conventions are more commonly a point in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 18 and 21). 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, movies, etc. that have a young character or characters who, by the end of the story, have matured in some way, usually through the acceptance of responsibility.


Religious coming of age





Confirmation (sacrament)

Greek polytheism




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.


Secular national traditions

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.


While in recent history of Spain the Quinceañera ceremony is not known, there was a civilian coming of age bound to the compulsory military service during the 20th century. The quintos were the boys of the village that reached the age of eligibility for military service (18 years), thus forming the quinta of year, say, 1969. 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. With the proceedings, they held a common festive meal and may paint some graffitti "Vivan los quintos del <year>" 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 difussion 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 detaching from military service. In others, the tradition was simply lost.


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.

Alternate spellings include genpuku, gembuku, genbuku, gembaku, and genbaku.

See also: Seijin Shiki

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.


In 1928, Margaret Mead published a book called Coming of Age in Samoa. It not only launched her career as an anthropologist but remains a classic in its field.

Professional initiatory rituals

Academic Initiations

English public school


In many universities of Europe, first year students are made to undergo tests or humiliation before being accepted as students. Perhaps the oldest of these is "Raisin Monday" at St Andrews University. 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).

Fraternities and sororities

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.


For a list of films that deal with the coming-of-age of a character, see Category:Coming-of-age films (


See also

fr:Majorité civile ja:成人


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