A rite of passage, whether defined as a "ritualistic procedure (Webster's) or as a "ceremony (Random House), represents a change of status of an individual in his/her society. Rites of passage are generally thought to ensure smooth and successful life transitions and/or changes of status. All cultures have rites of passage; however, these rites vary greatly between the different cultures. In this essay, many cultures' rites of passage will be described, but first, I shall begin by discussing what we are most familiar with: American rites of passage.
Although American rites of passage are generally not as clear-cut and well defined as those of other cultures, they do exist. A general and obvious example of a formalized passage is the rite of marriage. More distinct and structured passages from one life stage to another can also be found in various religions prominent in America. Catholics participate in many. First there is Baptism, in which a child is initiated into the church through a ceremony that involves pouring water over a baby's head and saying prayers. Another passage in the Catholic Church is Confirmation, which is generally described as the time that young people become "adults in the church. Boys and girls who practice Judaism have a formal rite of passage in which they become adults in the church also. They prepare extensively for their bar mitzvah (boys) or bah mitzvah (girls), which involves singing, prayers, and gifts received by the young person who is participating.
Despite these few structured rites, American culture still lacks a certain type of passage rite that multiple other cultures around the world practice; that is, the rite of passage from childhood to young adulthood. For Americans, this transition is ambiguous, in that at no single point are American children considered officially adults. It is instead a gradual process. Some, who undoubtedly experienced a particularl