[Campus Commentary]A day to celebrate coming of ageMay is known as Family Month in Korea. May 5 is Children’s Day, May 8 is Parents’ Day and May 15 is Teachers’ Day. People usually exchange gifts to mark those days as special moments, but few people count those days as one of life’s rites of passage. However, there is another national holiday marked on the calendar that was celebrated as an important rite of passage in the past, but has lost its original meaning nowadays.
It’s the Coming of Age Day, which is celebrated on the third Monday in May. This year, it falls on May 14. Following the old tradition to congratulate those turning 20 years old, in 1973 the Ministry of Culture and Tourism designated the Coming of Age Day.
But young people celebrate it differently today. Now it’s a day when a boyfriend or girlfriend gives 20 roses to a special person who’s turning 20 that year. So streets near college campuses are filled with people walking hand in hand that day, holding rose bouquets. Perfumes and kisses are also included in the list of must-gifts for Coming of Age Day. Those who do not have a boyfriend or girlfriend usually get drunk that day (possibly for the first time, because the legal age to drink is 19) to celebrate their adulthood.
Young adults put meaning to their coming of age in many ways, but it’s not certain whether they also feel the responsibility and the dignity of becoming adults. Like many other special days these days, particularly imported ones such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween and even Christmas ― the coming of age celebration has degenerated. Living in times full of festivals and events, the Coming of Age Day, which was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, has become just a day to exchange gifts in colorful wrapping paper.
But unlike a birthday we go through routinely, how should young people celebrate a turning point marking the transition from childhood to adulthood?
In the novel “Mutant Message,” a doctor from America on a trip to Australia explains the idea of a birthday party to native Australians. The natives couldn’t understand what the celebration of aging was for and said a celebration had to mean something more special. They said there isn’t anything special about getting older because it takes no effort. To them, the party should be a celebration of becoming wiser. This dialogue made me realize how much we are captivated by materialistic things and fail to see what is inside.
Young people today find it hard to recognize the turning point in their lives. With great pressure to study hard to enter a university, graduating from high school may seem to be a point when one becomes an adult. Some say that young people are growing up too fast, but it is questionable whether those who look like adults fulfill their responsibility as well.
I feel the coming of age ceremony can help many young people facing an identity crisis about what it means to be an adult these days. It can also help them find inner growth and a sense of responsibility as they emerge as new leaders of society.
Like the native Australians in “Mutant Message,” what we need is to take some time to ask ourselves whether we have become wiser or not.
*The writer is a reporter for The Ewha Voice, English newspaper at Ewha Womans University.
by Song Hye-won