Marking the Moment: Rites of Passage Ideas for Families

By Patti Richards

Living in a Jewish community meant that when my kids each began their 13th year, the majority of their friends were celebrating either a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. These rite-of-passage moments seemed so meaningful, and I wanted my children to have a similar experience. But finding a model for an evangelical rite-of-passage celebration wasn’t easy. Most Christian circles aren’t much on ceremony. Baptisms, baby dedications and even weddings vary from church to church, right down to receiving-lines and whether or not to have a groom’s cake.

Tradition! Tradition!

We started thinking about what was celebrated in our Jewish neighbor’s homes and synagogues and why passing this heritage of culture and faith down to their children was so important. According to Judaism 101, Jewish children are welcomed into the synagogue as adults during their 13th year (12 for girls). They recite a blessing over the weekly reading of the Torah in the synagogue for the first time and now have the right and the obligation to take part in religious services. Before these ages, children are encouraged but not required to observe the commandments. “Bar” means “son of the commandment” and “Bat” is Hebrew and Aramaic for “girl.” “Mitzvah” means “commandment” in Hebrew and Aramaic. So becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is as much about recognizing a personal responsibility for spiritual growth as it is about the celebration.

Passing the Faith Along

Once we had a picture of what Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were all about, it was easier to plan our own coming-of-age celebration. First, we thought about the kinds of things that were special to our son. He liked eat out at nice restaurants, so we picked a place he had never been. We told him he could bring one friend along and we also invited both grandfathers, the dad of his friend and one of our pastors. Then we wanted a special gift to mark the occasion. Our son had always admired my husband’s gold chain, so that was an easy decision. But a dinner out and a gold chain just didn’t seem enough to let our son know turning 13 meant something about faith and responsibility.

So we decided to ask the men in our son’s life to write to him about what it meant to be a man. As the letters came in from all over the country, we placed them in a scrap book along with some poetry and inspirational thoughts, and left some space at the end for him to add other things along the way.

The night of the party my son received his gifts and his father, two grandfathers and his friends prayed for God’s blessing over his life. My son’s in college now, but he never goes anywhere without his gold chain, and enjoys taking his special book off the shelf and reading the letters he received from men he admires.

We did the same thing for each of our daughters, but added ear piercing and shopping to the day. They each wear their gold chains proudly and keep their books in special places in their rooms.

Why Rites of Passage?

Today’s adolescent is growing up in a culture of mixed-up messages. For girls, coming of age can look more like cat walk preparation than how to become a woman of grace, strength and virtue. Boys struggle with their sense of identity as traditional dads and husbands are depicted in the media as unnecessary and less than intelligent. Giving our sons and daughters a marker, much like an Old Testament altar they can return to when they’re confused or afraid, is like a map through a mine field.

Focus on the Family recommends weaving moments of encouragement into your children’s lives regularly so they see rite of passage celebrations as a natural extension of your family traditions. If your child is reaching a milestone you want to mark, use these ideas to help you get started:

  • Set a pattern. Although each kid is unique, a celebration plan that is the same for each child lets them know they are all equally valued.
  • Add personality. Think about what kinds of things are special to each of your children. Tweak each celebration to honor each child’s individuality.
  • Keep it fun. Marking milestones should be fun as well as spiritually significant. Connecting this occasion with laughter, family and friends will deepen the moment and the memory.

Taking time to mark your children’s journey to adulthood can empower them to be the people God has designed them to be.