The word ‘menarche’ comes from the Greek words ‘mene’, which means ‘moon’, and ‘arche’, which means ‘beginning’. It marks the beginning moon, the first menstruation, or first moon. Research has shown that women tend to experience menarche as a shift to physical maturity. Every woman has her own story of when and where the event occurred. This is actually one of the important days for any woman as she is entering a new stage of life. Cultures around the world have many different menarcheal customs. In most cultures, menstruation is associated with physical discomfort, increased emotions and restrictions on social and physical activities.

All around the world

Menarche is celebrated in different ways in many societies around the world. In parts of India, menstrual prohibitions are widely practiced, but so is the celebration of a girl’s menarche. In southern India, newly menstruating girls are given feasts, money and gifts and are decked up in beautiful new clothes. When one of the girls was asked about the celebration, she said she thought it was unnecessary to make a public announcement about the whole thing. The Dagara ethnic group in Africa believes that menstruating women possess heightened wisdom and healing powers. They hold large ceremonies each year for the girls who started their period during the previous 12 months. Japanese families traditionally commemorate a daughter’s first menstrual period by eating red rice and beans. Aboriginal Australians ritually bathe and apply beautiful body paint on young women at the onset of their period.

Why have a menarche celebration?

Is it about women becoming fertile and being able to have children rather than a celebration of menstruation per se? Some women believe that these kinds of ceremonies are irrelevant, and should be slowly eliminated. Others are of the opinion that a celebration is good. After all, the girls are entering a completely new phase so a celebration is a must.

Let’s check out the opinions given by some women when asked about their first period celebration and their experiences. “When my daughter had her first menstruation cycle, it was a very difficult situation for her and there was excruciating physical pain too. Do you really expect me to make her even more uncomfortable by making her sit on a couch and let people come and see her and make her feel embarrassed? It is a very big deal for her, so I don’t think any celebration is required.” Another said, “I would have celebrated it within a small close circle as the society in which we live still thinks menstruation is something impure. But if such a belief did not exist, I would celebrate it with my friends and relatives as I don’t see it as an embarrassment.”

Here’s what one respondent had to say. “I never thought of celebrating when I had my first period, but I will definitely celebrate my daughter’s first period because it is definitely something to be proud of and a natural process which every girl has to go through. But yes, I would celebrate it within a small circle as this is special and celebrating with special ones makes more sense to me instead of telling the whole world about it.” Likewise, another said, “I would have celebrated only with my mom, sister and best friend. I don’t want everyone to know I’m menstruating because I don’t see any point in it. Celebrating with close ones will be more comfortable than celebrating with relatives and other family members.”

Positives and negatives

We can understand from their opinions that women are ready to celebrate their first menstruation cycle, but with their close ones. They do not want to sit in a special place the whole day where everyone will stare at them. Celebrating menarche has positive as well as negative sides. Reassuring a girl to celebrate her menarche rather than be ashamed of it is one of the positive sides of this celebration. In society, one tries to avoid the subject of menstruation. The manner of discussing menstruation and how it is represented in advertisements and movies shows our uneasiness. I feel that a girl has every right to decide whether she wants a celebration or not before it is held. If she is ready, the day can be marked with a huge celebration that makes her feel special on that day. But if she is not, it should not be forced since she is the one who is going through the stage and has to face the gathering.

So menarche is celebrated in different ways around the world, and I have seen that women actually want to celebrate it, as it is one of the important events in their lives. The ceremony is not a compulsion, rather the day should be cherished. Finally, it is worth remembering that all of us are different and unique and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The main thing is that a healthy attitude towards menstruation and becoming a woman is passed down to the next generation, and that we can collectively remove taboos related to menstruation in society as well.