Debating the Future of the Coming-of-Age Ceremony
Debating the Future of the Coming-of-Age Ceremony
  • 송혜원 기자
  • 승인 2007.05.01 00:00
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             There are many days that we celebrate, from birthdays to Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. People usually exchange gifts to mark those days as moments of their life. Still, people count few of those days as one of their lives’ rites of passage. Meanwhile, the coming of age ceremony, which functioned as an important rite of passage and marked the first stage in the life cycle of our Korean ancestors, has lost its meaning nowadays.  

Not content to simply let the idea of a coming-of-age ceremony vanish, however, the National Youth Commission is planning a simplified coming-of-age ceremony this year to match the needs of both tradition and modernity. In the changed ceremony participants will be able to wear either Western clothes or hanbok, Korean traditional clothes, and make a simple declaration of their coming of age instead of performing some of the traditional rituals. Other events that will drag young people’s interest are also planned for the upcoming ceremony. Choi Hwa-young, who is in charge of the project, says, “As time passes, youth on the threshold of adulthood do not feel anything on Coming-of-Age Day. Although the representation of traditional rituals is necessary, we thought of reducing the formalities and making the procedures simpler for youth nowadays to understand more easily.”

             Yet Professor Im Hyun-shik (Education) thinks the change in formalities is not what matters. “As the bird is fighting to break the egg in the novel Demian, growing up is a painful process. Thus Coming-of-Age Day should be a day when young adults share their pain of growing up with others, and older adults should share methods of coping with the pain.

             Im explains that the reason for the ceremony fading out lies in the lack of interest in looking into each individual’s spiritual growth. According to Im, physical growth and intellectual growth are normally the measures used to see how much a person has developed in our culture. Im says that there are also stages of development in people’s spiritual growth, but that current society judges people only by their appearance, social advancement, and grades.

             Im cites an episode from the novel Mutant Message, when the narrator, a doctor fromAmerica on a journey to Australia, explains the idea of a birthday party to native Australians. The natives couldn’t understand what the celebration of age was for and said a celebration has to mean something special. But there isn’t anything special about getting older because it takes no effort. To them, the party should have been a celebration of becoming wiser. Im comments that people nowadays have lost the eyes to tell whether we have become wiser or not.

             Then why celebrate the Coming-of-Age Day after all? The importance of revitalizing the coming of age ceremony is explained by Hanyang University Professor Kim Chan-ho (Cultural Anthropology) in a paper titled “21st Century Korean Society and the Coming of Age Ceremony.” According to Kim, making a turning point in life helps young adults to refresh their minds and start a new beginning. Lacking this turning point induces some young people to imitate adults awkwardly or to linger on a childish state. Another role of the ceremony is integrating the old and the new generation. The coming of age ceremony given from the old to the young adults can function as a ritual celebrating the new leaders initiating into to the real world, says Kim.

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