14 years ago, you as a parent welcome a precious child into the world. That child is your own flesh and blood. The child learns how to speak; the child learns how to make friends; the child plays with toys and dreams big; the child asks you questions about life. As the child grows up, you awe in his/her development; you enjoy the entertainment he/she gives you; you are astounded at his/her talents.
Then the big 1-4 comes! And with that, Jugendweihe! What is that tradition, anyway?
This is where yours truly comes in. My daughter turned 14 a while back and most recently, she celebrated Jugendweihe at her high school (in this case in German: Gymnasium). It’s basically the celebration of entering adulthood, although for some parents, it’s a difficult process of accepting the notion that your child is growing up, “leaving” childhood and “entering” the adult stage. And this despite the fact that in American standards, he/she is still a teenager- has been since 13 and will continue to be that way until “officially” entering the adult age of 21.
Still confused at the notion of Jugendweihe and entering adulthood even though the child is 14 and hasn’t flown the nest yet? Let’s do a comparison.
Jugendweihe vs. Confirmation
Jugendweihe is celebrated at the same time as Confirmation. Confirmation is the process where a person who is baptized of a religious faith receives the full religious rite and is a full member of the religious faith. It’s basically a sealing of the covenant of the religious faith which was started with the baptism at an early age and is completed at the age of between 13 and 15. This is practiced in all Christian faiths, especially in North and South America, but to a lesser degree, also in Europe.
Looking at America from an ex-patriate’s perspective, the process of confirmation is based on years of religious schooling, especially Sunday School and in many parts of the country, also Wednesday night classes, where students learn about the teachings of Christ. The preparation of Confirmation normally takes a couple years, which culminates in the ceremonies that take place in the 8th or 9th grade. In that ceremony itself, which takes place during the Sunday church services, students receiving confirmation are dressed in stoles, confess their faith and receive their first communion (red wine as the blood of Christ and wafer as the body of Christ), while reading the excerpt of choice from the Bible and explaining to congregation why it was very important to them. Confirmation varies among religious faiths but they are ordinarily administered when the child becomes an early adolescent, meaning their teenage years. Therefore, it may be considered a “coming of age” in the Christian faith.
History of Jugendweihe
Jugendweihe has its roots back to the 19th Century. The term was first mentioned by Eduard Baltzer in 1852 but was considered the non-religious (or sometimes the non-demoninational) form of Confirmation, for 90% of the youth were considered Christians. It blossomed during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) as it was supported by the Social Democrats and the German Communist Party, as well as the workers’ unions and even the anarchists. It was basically the initiation of early adulthood. One could say that because of the majority of children being members of the church, they celebrated both Confirmation and Jugendweihe at the same time, treating both as a firmation of faith and the coming of age.
During the Third Reich (1933-1945), Adolf Hitler eliminated all forms of Confirmation and Jugendweihe and instead created the Hitlerjugend group. There children reaching early adolescent were enlisted into that group and were trained to become Hitler’s army of men. Towards the end of World War II in May 1945, much of HItler’s troops remaining on the front consisted of those from the HItlerjugend.
After the Fall of the Third Reich and the End of WWII, Jugendweihe was reintroduced as a non-religious coming of age festival, yet because of the division between East and West Germany, the eastern half established a firm base on the ideology of Marxism and Socialism. The festivities were sanctioned by the schools and also the Freie Deutsche Jugend, and students were expected to participate in all of the festivities and events involving the East German ideology. In West Germany, the celebrations were seldom to find as much of the population were members of the church and therefore, Confirmation was generally celebrated, especially in the state of Bavaria, which is pre-dominatly Catholic.
This changed after German reunification in 1990. The organization Jugendweihe e.V. was established at that time and has several branch organizations serving all 16 German states to this day. The Jugendweihe in Germany today is run by these organizations and since 1993, participating in the rituals of the Jugendweihe have been made optional. That means adolescents between the ages of 13 and 15 in Germany have the choice between Confirmation (if they are part of a Christian religious faith), Jugendweihe (if they generally don’t belong to the faith but want to go through the traditional process) or neither of the two (if they come from a different religion, like Islam, Judaism, etc., or simply don’t have the interest.) As of present, only 25% of the population of Germany’s adolescents take part in the Jugendweihe, 40% of which from the former East German states of Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Pommerania. But with the continuing decrease in the number of people attending Christian institutions in Germany, the number non-Christians participating in the Jugendweie may increase in the coming years.
How does Jugendweihe work?
The process of Jugendweihe in Germany is not like Confirmation, where you have to take preparation classes on becoming adults and keeping to the faith. While intensive topics dealing with current events, politics and social studies, environmental sciences and ethics are introduced in the 8th grade year, only small elements are presented. To participate in the Jugendweihe, the adolescent must participate in the Jugendweihe organization representing the state or region he/she is living in and attending school. These organizations are independent of the school and offer several events to get teens prepared for real life. This can include lectures on social topics and current events, but can also include social work activities, parties at summer camps, field trips to places, such as the state parliament, places of historic interest or even outside of Germany. These organizations are the ones that host the Jugendweihe ceremonies, which take place on a Saturday during the time span of March to June.
The Jugendweihe ceremony itself is a formal event where everyone dresses up- not only the participants of the ceremony but also their families and guests. In this case, it’s on the same level as Confirmation or even Graduation, except here, there are no stoles or graduation gowns. Participants have to wear their best attire. Like graduation, the participants walk down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony and have an exclusive place near the front of the stage, either in the middle or on the left and right sides, pending on the size of the venue and the number of people attending.
The ceremony features music from a regionally known music group(s) that play popular music with a focus on adult themes, such as love, freedom and life. This marks a stark contrast to Confirmation where religious themes are in the musical pieces. There are speeches made by guest speakers, one or two of which represent the group participating in the Jugendweihe and one or more from an institution, such as a bank, company, public agency, etc. The speeches focus on the transition from childhood to young adulthood and all the challenges and experiences that the adolescents will face as they enter the final years of schooling. Once the speeches are finished, each partcipant comes to the stage and receives their certificate and blessing, thus formally declaring them new members of the adulthood. As a normality, each one receives a handbook which looks at the themes involving adulthood and how the adolescent can (and sometimes should) handle them. This is what a typical handbook looks like:
After the official consecretion to adulthood, the ceremony ends with some live music and the newly annointed adolescents walking off the stage, with certificate, handbook and flower in their hands. And with it, the celebrations begin, which include family and friendship photos, food and entertainment at home and/or in a restaurant, and with it, opening presents and having parties.
Having gone through the ceremony with my daughter, all I can say is Jugendweihe is like graduation but in a way that your child formally leaves childhood and starts a new life as a young adult. The difference is that the ceremony is very relaxed with some popular music which the audience can be involved with. The speeches were laden with some valuable advice for the adolescents and for us parents with one that I found the most useful:
“Your son/daughter is entering the stage where he/she wants to challenge him/herself. You as parents should be there to coach them and provide them with guidance.”
It reminded me of all the convocations we had in high school in America, where guest speakers came to tell us the value of life and how we should handle it with care. And while parenting there has changed dramatically in the almost 30 years since I left high school, this advice should be taken seriously. Let your son/daughter grow but be there to help and provide them with some valuable lessons. Be that coach and person he/she turns to for advice.
As my daughter once mentioned as probably one of the best quotes of our lifetime: “Experience is a Strict Teacher.”
Jugendweihe is a celebration of adulthood your child should participate in. It marks the departure of childhood and the beginning of an era where we experiment, collect experience and learn by doing. It does not mean your child is officially an adult, for he/she cannot drink until 18 years of age, nor can he/she drive until that same age. It simply means that your child is opening the door to some new opportunities that are ahead, some of which will contribute a great deal in rounding out the development of a real fine man or woman. It’s a process where after 13-15 years , you teach your child how to fly so that he/she is ready to leave the nest when the time is ripe to do so. It’s a time of finding one’s own place in life and setting the stage for when he/she starts a life of his/her own, starts a career and family, and reflects on how the parents did a proud job of raising the child. For us parents, it’s a celebration of thanks for what we did. For those like my daughter, now a young adult, it’s a celebration marking a new chapter and what is ahead. ❤ 😀