About 21st Birthday Traditions

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Beer is often a participant in 21st birthday celebrations.
Beer is often a participant in 21st birthday celebrations. (Image: beer in beer-mug image by Witold Krasowski from Fotolia.com)

This article discusses typical American 21st birthday traditions and coming of age traditions in general. 21st birthdays, especially for American university students, are important, but also sometimes infamous affairs. None of the behavior enumerated in this article is endorsed, merely explained. Some of it can be incredibly harmful to your health.

Significance

American drinking culture does not typically begin at age 21, but is legally allowed at age 21. Though many youths experiment with alcohol in their high school years, they are not allowed to buy or consume alcohol legally until they turn 21. The age is also significant as, with few exceptions, it is traditionally seen as a “coming of age” when a minor becomes a full-fledged adult. However, because a good deal of American youth turn 21 while at university, with its highly alcohol-centered culture, the 21st birthday has become for many a booze-heavy event.

Coming of Age Rituals

The American coming of age ritual differs slightly from historical coming of age rituals, especially ancient ones. Heathen coming of age rituals sometimes included telling children riddles then conferring on them a new name to usher them into adulthood. The Apache have a ritual to initiate children into post-pubescent adulthood. Girls often dance for hours at a time and both sexes are educated on sexuality and other traditions within the tribe.

21 Drinks

One of the most popular, and most dangerous, of American 21st birthday rituals is the concept of 21 drinks. The basic premise is that the newly minted 21 year old consume 21 drinks over the course of the evening. A variety of drinks may be consumed in a variety of locations including, but not limited to, bars, clubs or the comfort of one’s own home. Some have perilously amended the game to be 21 shots of straight liquor.

21st Birthday Facts

Contrary to popular belief, 72% of men do not believe that drinking copious amounts of booze is a “rite of passage” to enter into their 21st year. However, one-third of men surveyed by Virginia Tech University had blacked out during their 21st birthday celebrations. The findings would seem to suggest that while many do not believe in the validity of the ritual, peer pressure wins the day when it comes to actual behavior.

Dangers of Binge Drinking

To address the dangerous binge drinking that goes on during 21st birthday celebrations, Virginia Tech University drafted research of common myths and facts about 21st birthday drinking celebrations. The results often go against the grain of accepted thought about the celebration. Primarily, it highlights the extreme danger of the 21 drinks ritual, going on to say that 95% of women do not attempt to do it. Those who do are nearly guaranteed to black out, vomit or get alcohol poisoning.

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