Thursday, 27 May 2010

21st birthday – Coming of age or just an excuse to get drunk?

Your 21st birthday is the big step into adulthood, the ‘coming of age’, or so tradition would have us believe. Historically, it was tradition to present the lucky birthday boy or girl with a giant, decorated key, symbolising the opening up of ‘the door of life’.

Nowadays though, turning 21 in the UK gives you few more legal rights than you had when you were 20 but it’s still a good excuse for a great big 21st birthday party, wearing an ‘It’s my 21st birthday’ badge and demanding lots of extra special 21st birthday presents.

Outside Europe, 21st birthdays are particularly big events in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and America. Modern day rituals seem to run along a similar theme; embarrassing baby photos, cringey speeches from your parents and lots of alcohol.

Turning 21 in the US is more significant as it means that you can legally buy alcohol, an entitlement many Americans take full advantage of. Referred to as the ‘power hour’ or '21 for 21', drinking 21 beverages on your 21st birthday is an emerging ritual that's causing a stir amongst concerned adults over the dangers of such a binge. Perhaps lowering the drinking age to 18 would minimise the danger by a few drinks...

Lucy's article was also posted on

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