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Tainan’s Coming-of-Age Tradition: Pass on Blessings in the Name of Love
Birthday Ceremony of Qiniangma and the Celebration of Turning Sixteen is a registered folk of Tainan, a ritual filled with local colors and meaningful cultural heritage. It is an expression of each family’s love and expectations for their children. It also aims to inspire a sense of responsibility toward oneself and society within the child. Once again, the Tainan Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage(TMACH) is collaborating with the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families, inviting youth from disadvantaged families to participate in the coming-of-age ceremony at the Shih Family Grand Ancestral Shrine on the Birthday Ceremony of Qiniangma on August 7, 2019 (or July 7 on the lunar calendar), and join others to enjoy the blessings of this tradition.

The Celebration of Turning Sixteen is a shared memory of Tainan society. To preserve this unique local tradition and highlight the societal meaning of rituals that celebrate life, TMACH began to promote celebrating the Celebration of Turning Sixteen at home in 2012. The promotional effort reached its eighth year in 2019. Besides performing the formal ritual at selected demonstration homes, TMACH is also collaborating with the Shih Family Grand Ancestral Shrine and the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families to organize the Family 16 event. The event will honor the Celebration of Turning Sixteen as one big family, with the city mayor acting as the head of the house that gives blessings to the youth, and everyone together celebrating the joy of becoming an adult.

According to legend, Qiniangma is a deity that protects children until the age of 16. In the year that the child turns 16, the family places offerings of fruit, makeup, taro sweets, meat, wine, and glutinous oil rice outside their front door on the Birthday Ceremony of Qiniangma (July 7 on the lunar calendar). A worship ritual is held to thank the goddess for protecting the child. At the same time, the grandmother on the mother’s side prepares a coming-of-age gift for the child. The gift is placed in a wooden box and carried to the youth’s home, led by a parade of drums, wind instruments, and metal percussion. The gift and the parade are the grandmother’s way of congratulating her grandchild for becoming an adult. After the worship ritual, the youth must perform chu niao mu gong, a ritual in which the parents hold up the goddess’ palanquin so that the child can pass beneath it. This ritual signifies that the youth is now an independent person. Lastly, the palanquin is burned and sent to Qiniangma, and the family gives red tortoise cakes to friends and neighbors to share their joy.

Through the promotions of TMACH recent years, the Celebration of Turning Sixteen is regaining cultural importance. Many families in Tainan have started performing their own ceremonies for their children. In modern society traditions and customs are fading away; however, we hope the coming-of-age ceremony will inherit the pulse of the city, become part of daily life, and pass on the meaning and value of our intangible cultural assets