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In the years of the separation of Germany (1949-1989/90), the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) refused to nominate a state religion and propagated a non-religious Weltbild (worldview), instead. Thus, the East German government neither supported Christian ceremonies that celebrate the reception of a child or adolescent into a society, e.g. communion and confirmation, nor did they welcome that. In order to celebrate the absorption of a young person the state made recourse to an initiation custom that is rooted in the 1890s.
At the end of the 19th century supporters of religious humanism developed an initiation rite that differs from church ceremonies and religious beliefs. Advocates of that approach supported a freigeistige Weltanschauung (free-spirited ideology) and established the so-called Jugendweihe (lit. youth dedication), which German youngsters celebrate when they are 14 years old. The Jugendweihe originally was a school leaving ceremony, as it was common to leave school at that age in those times. Later, the Arbeiterbewegung (labor movement) of the GDR adopted this tradition.
The Jugendweihe may still be celebrated in the former eastern parts of Germany. But I do not think that it is still a must to have an official celebration. For example, when I was 14 my teachers at school asked me and all of my schoolmates, if we would like to have an official festivity. Of course, we agreed, as this was still somehow part of our culture and tradition. Jugendweihe festivities usually proceed like this: The adolescents invite family members and friends of the family to a huge celebration, which basically consists of two festive parts. In the morning, the adolescent and his/her parents and close family member, e.g. grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, attend a ceremony, where speeches are given and songs, dances, and short plays are performed on a stage. At the end of this ceremony all adolescents go on the stage and are personally congratulated on their special day. Additionally, each adolescent receives a Blumenstrauß (bunch of flowers) and a little present, usually, a book with Sinnsprüchen (epigrams) and a Grußkarte (greeting card). After the official ceremony the young people celebrate in the family circle. They either go out eating in restaurants or they have a garden party at home with taking coffee in the afternoon and having a barbecue in the evening.
A very special custom is to give the adolescent some money, instead of Sachgeschenke (gifts in kind, non-cash gifts). This is usually a quite large amount, which can exceed 500 or 1,000 Euros. I think the money symbolizes that adolescents should have a good start to spread their wings and lead an own and independent life. Far-seeing adolescents take the money to the bank and save it for the time when they will leave home to do an apprenticeship or go to university.
die Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) – German Democratic Republic (GDR)
das Weltbild – worldview
freigeistig – free-spirited
die Weltanschauung – ideology; worldview
die Jugendweihe – lit. youth dedication
die Arbeiterbewegung – labor movement
der Blumenstrauß – bunch of flowers
der Sinnspruch – epigram
die Grußkarte – greeting card
das Sachgeschenk – gift in kind; non-cash gift
das Geldgeschenk – gift of money