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Tainan’s Unique Traditional Folk Culture - Celebration of Ciniangma’s Birthday and Rite of Passage for 16-Year-Olds

 

The “coming-of-16” ceremony, a cultural tradition unique to Tainan, is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar, which fell on August 9th this year. Many temples in Tainan held special celebrations for this coming-of-age event.  Attending one such ceremony, Mayor William Lai spoke about how the coming-of-age ritual symbolizes the combination of divine blessing and parental care that enables children to grow to adulthood smoothly and safely.  Hence, boys and girls should gradually learn to shoulder their responsibilities and show filial piety to their parents after leaving behind their childhood years.

 

The seventh day of the seventh lunar month is Ciniangma’s birthday. Ciniangma, also known as the Weaving Maid, is the seventh daughter of the Jade Emperor, and is believed to be the goddess who protects children under 16. To show appreciation and gratitude to Ciniangma for her blessing that has enabled their son or daughter to grow up safely, a 16-year-old child’s parents prepare sacrificial offerings, such as rice cakes, rouge and cosmetic powder, and a miniature Ciniangma pagoda made of bamboo and paper, as offerings to the goddess, and present these to her in a prayer ceremony at home. After completing this part of the ceremony, the parents lift up the pagoda and the child passes under it in a ritual passage to adulthood. This signifies that the child has reached maturity, become self-sufficient, and no longer needs the help and protection of Ciniangma. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the parents burn the Ciniangma pagoda, and distribute rice cakes to relatives and neighbors to share the joyfulness of this landmark in their child’s life.

 

This coming-of-age tradition dates back centuries to when Tainan was a major center of trade. At that time, child labor was common, and children seeking to be hired for work would gather in the area of Wutiaogang (“Five Channels Harbor”). Child workers received only half the pay of adults, but when they reached the age of 16, they were considered adults and would then receive full pay. In modern society, this tradition has evolved into an expectation that children reaching this age will study harder at school, be more serious and responsible, and display more filial respect to their parents as they cross into adulthood.

 

The organization of colorfully traditional “Double Seven Day” coming-of-age ceremonies has become an annual highlight in the calendars of Tainan’s main temples. This signature feature of cultural life in Tainan has been growing in popularity in recent years. As well as drawing a throng of local participants, it attracts parents from all over Taiwan who bring their children to take part in the ritual celebrations. Tainan welcomes people from everywhere to come to our city to join us in this traditional ceremony on this special day every year!