Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage Jonathan Poland

A rite of passage is a ceremony or event that marks an important transition or milestone in a person’s life. These ceremonies often serve as a way to recognize and celebrate the passage of an individual from one stage of life to another, and are often seen as a crucial part of a person’s social and cultural identity.

Rites of passage are found in cultures all around the world, and can take many different forms, from religious ceremonies and rituals to more informal events and experiences. Some common examples of rites of passage include graduation ceremonies, religious confirmations and baptisms, and coming-of-age rituals such as sweet sixteen parties or quinceañera. Overall, rites of passage are an important way for individuals to celebrate and acknowledge the significant milestones in their lives.

Milestones of Childhood

Ceremonies and parties to mark milestones of childhood. For example, Shichi-Go-San in Japan that is celebrated by girls at three and seven and boys at age five. This corresponds to the ages that girls were historically allowed to grow long hair and that boys were allowed to wear a formal garment known as a hakama. Also, at age seven girls were traditionally allowed to wear an obi as opposed to a rope belt for their kimono. Clothes such as kimono and hakama are extremely formal and wearing them for the first time is symbolic of entry into middle childhood.


Welcoming members to a group with rituals that are often symbolic. For example, a Baptism is a Christian rite of admission that may use water to symbolize purification. This is one of three Christian Sacraments of Initiation alongside Confirmation and Eucharist.

Professional Milestones

Rituals attached to professional milestones such as a pilot’s first solo flight. For example, it is common for a navy, merchant navy or sailing vessel to hold a line crossing ceremony for members who are passing over the equator for the first time. Historically, these could be quite extreme and may have served as a test of resilience to the hardships of life at sea.

Cultural Participation

It is common for cultural practices to be viewed as a rite of passage. For example, most school children in Japan take a school trip to Kyoto, a place of greate cultural and historical significance to Japanese culture.

Coming of Age

Perhaps the most common type of rite of passage across all cultures is a coming of age ritual that marks entry into adulthood. This can be a single event such as a Debutante ball that welcomes women of marriageable age into high society. It can also be an extended pursuit that will help to define a person as an adult. For example, the Amish are given a period of relative freedom in their teenage years known as Rumspringa. This ends with either a decision either to leave the community or to be baptized and bound by the rules of the community.


A pilgrimage is a journey that has a religious or spiritual meaning. These are often viewed as something that an individual does at least once in a lifetime. In this case, they are rite of passage. For example, it is common for both Hindus and Buddhists to make a pilgrimage to the river Ganges. The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu pilgrimage and festival held approximately every 12 years that can attract more than 60 million people such that it has set records for the largest gathering of people. This involves the purification ritual of bathing in the Ganges that has been practices by hundreds of millions of people.


Any ceremony or event that marks a change in a person’s life can be viewed as a rite of passage. The following are common examples.

  • Bachelor / Bachelorette
  • Birthdays
  • Funeral
  • Goodbye Parties
  • Graduation
  • Homecoming
  • Retirement
  • Weddings
  • Welcome Parties
  • Welcoming Newborns
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