Universal Children’s Day falls on November 20, but all around the world and all year round, little ones are feted in a myriad ways at various stages of their lives.
WORDS: Suzanne Lazaroo IMAGES Getty & 123RF
Poy Sang Long, Myanmar & northern Thailand
As a rite of passage for Shan Buddhists, boys between seven and 14 take monastic vows and live in a monastery for a week or more to learn Buddhist teachings. The days-long ceremony leading up to their ordination sees the boys dressed like princes – much like Siddharta Gautama before he gave up all worldly treasures in pursuit of enlightenment – and carried on the shoulders of their older male relatives.
Doljanchi, South Korea
In South Korea, the celebration of a child’s first birthday is called doljanchi. Birthday babies wear the hanbok(traditional attire), and take part in the doljabi ritual, whereby symbolic objects like calligraphy brushes, a gavel, money and even a bow and arrow are placed in front of the child. It is believed that the baby’s choice foretells his or her future! This is followed by feasting on rainbow rice cakes and seaweed soup.
Baby Full Moon, Chinese communities
In Chinese custom, families celebrate a baby’s first month with a full moon feast. Hardboiled eggs with their shells dyed red for good fortune are customary gifts, as eggs are believed to symbolise fertility. If the family has a baby boy, they prepare an odd number of eggs, while the gift of a girl requires an even number. In turn, guests present the baby with ang pau (money packet).
Tango no Sekku (Boys’Day), Japan
While May 5 is now officially Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi) in Japan, traditionally, this day was dedicated to boys with the Tango no Sekku celebration. Today, families still celebrate boys by flying koinobori (carp) streamers, and displaying military helmets called kabuto, along with Kintaro (a hero in the Heian period) Samurai dolls. Chimaki, sticky rice dumplings wrapped in iris or bamboo leaves, are enjoyed as festive delicacies.
Image: Kip Manaf
Cukur Jambul, Malaysia
Muslims often cut a baby’s hair during the aqiqah, a ritual thanksgiving feast typically held to celebrate the new addition. Traditionally, the family will sacrifice a goat for this feast, with one third of the meat distributed to the less fortunate. In Malaysia, the Malay community calls the hair-cutting ceremony cukur jambul, and according to custom, the baby’s hair will be weighed, and the equivalent of its weight given to the poor in gold.
Karnaveda Samskara, India
In India, it is common for girls to have their ears pierced either in their first or third year, or on other odd years. It is believed that this opens the inner ears to receive sacred sounds that nurture the spirit. Parents usually consult a priest to determine the most auspicious day and time for the ceremony. Special pujas (prayers) will be performed and the priest will whisper mantras into the ears of the child before the piercing.
Image: Vega Karina Andira Putri
Tedak Siten, Java, Indonesia
Loosely translated to ‘setting foot on the soil’, tedak siten is performed when a child reaches the age of tujuh selapan (245 days). It signifies a readiness to live a blessed life. To begin with, the child walks on glutinous rice cakes in seven colours, signifying the overcoming of obstacles. Other rituals include a flower bath and choosing items from inside a decorated cock cage to foretell what life may hold.
Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day), Japan
On Hinamatsuri, a day to pray for the health and happiness of young girls, women in Kyoto perform the nagashi-bina custom of floating paper dolls down a river, in the hope that bad luck will go with them. Homes are decorated with tiered platforms featuring hina (princess) dolls – in the attire of the Heian period – and peach and plum blossoms.