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Birthdays Across Cultures

December 28th, 2012 Seasonal

Birthdays are celebrated in a large number of cultures, either through parties and gifts or a more significant rite of passage. Interestingly, some religious groups specifically oppose the notion of celebrating a birthday at all. In the United States, we typically celebrate these days with a big party, the giving of gifts and, of course, singing "Happy Birthday." Different cultures hold different ages as specific milestones, usually between 14 and 21, after which a person is granted a certain age-appropriate responsibility. Naturally, this varies from country to country, but it can't be denied that we hold these occasions in high regard. If you're interested in the more significant rituals that take place across the vast spectrum of world cultures, read on!

1. Judaism. Arguably the most well-known coming-of-age ritual is the bar/bat mitzvah. Typically, these take place on the child's 12th or 13th birthday, depending on the particular sect of Judaism performing it. Symbolically, a bar/bat mitzvah marks the point at which a young Jew stops being a child and is regarded as a man or a woman. They are no longer exempt from certain commandments and are held to the same standard as the other members of the community.

2. Quinceañera. The quinceañera (literally translated to "one who is 15") is the celebration of a teenage girl's 15th birthday in several parts of Latin America and beyond. It's similar to a Sweet 16 party in many ways - a special party is thrown that's more lavish and involved than any previous one for the individual. There are a few different ways that a quince can be conducted, but the ceremony typically involves father and daughter entering together, followed by a waltz. There is dancing, food and drink throughout the event.

3. Upanayana. An Upanayana, also known as a thread ceremony, is typically held by those of the Hindu faith. The subject of the celebration is usually a male, either on his 12th or 13th birthday. Initiates are invested with a sacred thread which symbolizes the transference of sacred knowledge. Typically, the thread contains three strands, which can carry different meanings. In some cultures, it symbolizes three debts - to one's teachers, parents/ancestors and sages/scholars. In others, it may represent purity in thought, word and deed.

4. Debut. The debut is a celebration for young women in the Philippines. It is similar to the quinceañera, though debuts usually take place on the girl's 18th birthday instead. Whoever is being celebrated hand-picks an entourage of 18 guests, or multiple sets of 18 people. These groups are further divided into nine men and nine women, who pair off for the duration of the event. Traditional dances are held throughout the party, most notably the Grand Cotillion Dance, which is usually a classic waltz, as well as the Father and Daughter Dance.

5. Coming of Age Day. Coming of Age Day is a Japanese tradition held on the second Monday of January. It is meant to celebrate and encourage all Japanese citizens who reached the age of 20 in the past 12 months. Festivities include a number of ceremonies throughout the country as well as large-scale celebrations put on by the friends and families of those involved in the holiday.

There are plenty of wonderful ways to celebrate growing up around the world - birthdays are a cause for celebration in many different cultures, to be sure!