In today’s American culture, the onset of menstruation in young women has lost most of the luster it once carried. Many young women still think of their first menstruation as a rite of passage into womanhood, but it’s not considered an experience to be celebrated, or to broadcast – just the opposite, in fact.
Why don’t we celebrate this miraculous entrance into womanhood? Would a real celebration of this important threshold change how we view and experience our menstruation later in life? Before you attempt to answer that, here’s a brief lesson on how and why some Native American cultures consider menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation) to be an experience that is to be honored, treasured and celebrated.
The Navajo tribes celebrate a girl’s first menstrual period with an elaborate four-day celebration called the “Kinaalda.” Symbolic dances, cleansing rituals, physical activities such as racing, and a special cake called “alkaan” are among some of the blessed rituals experienced during a girl’s Kinaalda celebration. The festivities are supposed to symbolize a physical and spiritual closeness to Mother Nature, and a young girl’s transformation into the very image of Mother Nature. What a fabulous way to think of a young woman’s first period. A woman is, after all, is created to be bountiful and fertile just like the Mother Earth. So the symbolism of Kinaalda is very fitting indeed.
The Apache tribes have a similar celebration called the “Sunrise Ceremony” that consists of many similar activities and rituals that signify a young girl entering into womanhood. The young girls are showered with attention while other members of the tribe sing, pray and dance almost non-stop during the four-day celebration. Afterwards, the young women are not only given a renewed confidence and heightened sense of self, but also the significant recognition that they have just passed into a new role in their lives – that of wives and mothers to be.
Many other Native American tribes celebrate in a similar manner each time one of their own crosses the bridge into womanhood with their first menstruation. To them, becoming a woman is an honor, something sacred, a privilege and something to truly cherish and commemorate.
In contemporary American culture, most of these positive associations are lost. Today a young woman’s first period is usually something very private, something to be discreet about, and that’s unfortunate. Though it may not be realistic for us to spend several days celebrating each young girl’s passage into womanhood, perhaps we could borrow some of the Native American’s respect and excitement for this important time in a young woman’s life. Maybe even adopt a few of the Native Americans’ practices, or make up a few of our own. The idea is to recognize and honor what an important step the first menstruation is for a young woman – to enter into womanhood, and to embrace, enjoy and celebrate what truly means to be a woman.