Ireland has seen a marked rise in the interest in secularism in recent years. Many parents who are raising their children without religion are seeking secular ceremonies such as naming ceremonies and various kinds of coming of age ceremonies. All cultures throughout history have found meaningful ways to celebrate and mark these important transitions in life, and non religious alternatives here in Ireland are becoming more popular.
With this change in cultural practices we have also a seen a marked increase in the number of celebrants who cater for both blended faith or non-religious families looking for an alternative to what the major religious organisations are offering. Every year we see an increase in the number of civil funerals and secular weddings. Naming ceremonies are also becoming very popular. Whilst many are embracing atheism as a way of life there is a strong tendency among the Irish to have a sense of spirituality or agnosticism and they will often request a prayer or hymn in a ceremony without wanting the full mass. Parents are including Celtic blessings, Irish, British and American poetry, Hindu, Native American, Sufi and Buddhists elements as well as ancient African cultural rituals. They are choosing their own, personal music, involving art and keepsakes, devising their own ceremonial pieces and including family and cultural customs.
Celebrate Coming of Age
When it comes to children, although parents are choosing to opt of religion, they see the value in celebrating rites of passage. The community is enriched by these customs, we want to welcome new babies into the world, we want to share in our friends and family’s milestones whether or not we practice religion. The oldest evidence of human ritual dates back 70,000 years and was found in a cave in Botswana where our early ancestors The San, worshiped the python and sacrificed decorated spearheads to their figurehead. Ritual is essentially a uniquely human phenomenon and does not belong to any creed, race or culture.
The creation of a time capsule is an excellent way to mark this time. You can add any items relevant to the young person’s life, their favourite song, a copy of their favourite comic, an item from childhood like a toy or clothing. a letter to their future self, a letter from their parent or guardian or a newspaper from that day. It can be anything at all that will trigger the memory and hold significance. The Big Book is another option, this is where each child in a class or group is given a large page to design. They have complete free reign to express themselves on the page and during the ceremony the pages are bound together to make The BIG Book.
These are just some of the ways to welcome children to the world of the grownups, a world of more personal responsibility, more self-awareness and hopefully more achievement and contentment. However, by no means is the transition to adulthood one of completion, we are human becomings, learning is a lifelong pastime and growth is perennial.
The Coming of Age ceremony in western society can happen in two places, at the age of responsibility at 7 or 8 and around puberty or 13-15. These ceremonies mark a changing time in a child’s life when they accept more responsibility, individuate from their parents, make decisions and plans for themselves and embrace maturity. They are given a voice in the family and in the community and they are developing their own opinions and views on the world. Without a religious influence, parents are free to get creative with these occasions and can devise ritual to give meaning to the event. Ceremonies can be simple and take place at home or as part of a group of classmates, neighbours or friends. They can be done using a professional celebrant or a teacher or any appointment officiant. As Ireland moves into this new phase of embracing a more diverse, multicultural and more equal society it is exciting to see this new, inclusive style of marking life’s milestones.