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Red Party

"...a little statue of a woman, at a consignment store pajamas with lace, and a silk robe in her size..."




Ksenija Oster-Olmer

The Red Party

Celebrating the menarche, a girl's first step on the path to womanhood

When I first heard about the idea of the Red Party I was intrigued and excited. Remembering the secrecy and the negative feelings surrounding the first periods in our generation I felt I owed it to myself and to my three daughters to celebrate this important event in a girl's life when the time came for my eldest. But would she be willing? Or would she be embarrassed? How would we go about it? We have no experience with rituals and ceremonies, as alas, we are neither a religious nor a very spiritual family.

When I told my daughter about this interesting idea, she was just eleven and the time of her first period still seemed somewhat remote. We talked some about people that she might want to invite; girls and women that she would feel comfortable with. She said she would let me know when the time came if she were interested. We left it at that. Now and then I came across something interesting and hid it in a closet. At a fair I bought a little statue of a woman, at a consignment store pajamas with lace, and a silk robe in her size. Then suddenly, overnight she blossomed and one day she came home from school saying very matter of fact: "Luckily my friend Sara had a pad with her, because I got my period." I put on a happy face and congratulated her, while of course the motherly guilt was gnawing at me ("You didn't even make sure to give her a pad to take to school!") Sure I provided books and we read them together and talked about it all, but I neglected this crucial detail.

Well, let me make it up to her. How about that party we talked about? She said she'd talk to her friends and see what they think. And what will their mothers think, I wondered. When I very carefully broached the subject with one of the moms, she was immediately excited: "Oh, I think it is a wonderful idea! I've heard about it, but have never been to one." So, she wouldn't mind if her daughter came? No, as a matter of fact, she was hoping to be invited, too. (She was).

Once I got the green light from my daughter I started searching for the right way to do the ceremony. I asked the woman, who first introduced me to the idea to e-mail me some guidelines for the Maidening ritual, that they do at her church. Then I came across an invitation to a women's circle from an old acquaintance. Would she know about some rituals surrounding the first period? She would and she would be honored to help with the ceremony. Once the date was set, my daughter got very excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of her. "Mom, could we have lots of candles? Or a fire? How about flower garlands? I saw this great way to put your hair up like the Greeks did in olden times. I want to wear something white or red and it should be long and flowing." Oh, oh, let's not get carried away! No, let's get carried away!

Half of the fun is in planning and dreaming. I want you to dream up the most beautiful ceremony. I want you to feel as beautiful as a bride, as a goddess. I want to celebrate womanhood with you. In the strife for equality I have always pushed aside the feminine part of me. To celebrate it would seem a sign of weakness. What good is being a woman in the world dominated by men and their corporations, power and prowess? All brain and very little heart. Only when I became a mother, when I carried and nurtured my children with my womanly body I came to appreciate it. And truly like it and enjoy it. But definitely not when I was a young girl, an adolescent with hunched shoulders, hiding behind big T-shirts and nondescript overalls. I would like you to be able to look in the mirror with pride and walk down the street like you own the world, like you are the most beautiful girl in the world. Because you are!

On my daughter's list of attendees were two of her girlfriends from school, a younger girl down the street and after some prodding the eldest of her two younger sisters. Two of the moms joined their daughters and in the absence of female relatives she also invited some women she always felt close to and admired-an old family friend, who having had only one son, always showed special affinity to our girls, a young woman, who was her science project mentor and always talked about wanting a daughter just like our girls and a neighbor for whom she babysat.

I went on the Internet and searched under menstruation, menarche, and Red Party (who would have thought that the communists have this one pegged.) I went to the library and bookstores. I talked to other women. There was not a whole lot to be found, no step by step instructions for organizing this rite of passage. But there were bits and pieces that I could take and design our own. Serve red foods. Wear something red. Include the four elements of earth, fire, air, and water. Share stories. Sing. Tie it all together and see what happens. I was a bit worried as to how will a bunch of very middle class women, from very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds (among other a devout Christian, a non- practicing Hindu, a Palestinian and a Hawaiian) take it, how are we going to muddle through? Oh, but we did. And it was the most beautiful, moving experience for all of us, young girls and women alike.

We gathered in the evening with the sun coming down and the fog blowing in from the ocean. Everyone wore something red, from a bright red and gold Indian tunic and pants to a necklace of red beads over a blue jean dress. The girls helped set up an altar on a red tablecloth in the middle of our living room floor. They brought in branches from the bay trees surrounding our house and helped place the elements in the four directions; East-Air with feathers, South-fire with a burning candle and smoldering sage, West- water with a bowl of ocean water and oil and North-Earth with a bowl of red clay. Between two white candles we placed a garland of flowers for my daughter to wear at the ceremony. (Weaving the daisies together sure brought back memories of the girl I once was.) From the entrance of the house to our impromptu altar we sprinkled red rose petals and other small flowers. We gave all the girls red candles to hold.

We started our circle with welcome and introductions. I am a daughter of so and so and a mother of so and so and a sister to so and so. Our wise Hawaiian mistress of ceremony asked the elements for their presence, and talked about what each element means in a woman's life. We learned that Air represents our thoughts, ideas and womanly wisdom, Fire our passions and sensuality, Water our dreams, visions and intuition and Earth our body and fertility. We stood in a circle around our altar; girls and women holding hands. Timidly at first and then loud and from the heart we sung a beautiful Native American song and soon the first tears started appearing on the tips of the eyelashes.

River she is flowing, growing,
River she is flowing to the sea.
Carry me my mother
Your Child I will always be
Carry me my mother to the sea.
River she is flowing

Then I passed to my daughter a box wrapped in red paper with layers and layers of tissue paper under which lay a small box with crisscrossed by a red velvet ribbon. When she opened it she found a small clay statue of the Goddess of Menstruation. "As she had to go through all those layers to get through to the little statue I would like us to go through all our layers and reach deep inside of us and share our thoughts with her," I invited our circle. As we passed the statue around we talked about the women we admire, our role models. The girls came up with Amelia Earhart and other women from the past and women talked about dear friends and an elderly lady from the church who is kind and giving. And of course we remembered our mothers and grandmothers. Many women through tears shared the admiration of their women ancestors. Our Indian friend told us about her grandmother who at sixteen had to enter an arranged marriage with a man whom she didn't love, another friend about her mother who raised seven children. We talked about what womanhood meant to us and what it has brought to our life. We talked about our struggles and joy of becoming and being women.

Then it was time for our main event-the Threshold ceremony or the Maidening Ritual. We placed the red velvet ribbon on the floor separating us into two groups: my daughter surrounded with her friends, each holding red flaming candle and all the women on the other side. I have asked my daughter to bring to the ceremony something that was dear to her and represented her childhood. She chose her oldest stuffed animal that had a permanent place on her bed. As I told her ahead of time that she would be asked to leave it behind she had carried it lovingly with her the whole day. Now here she stood, this woman-child, resplendent in a long red dress (incidentally my handpainted yes, red, wedding dress-well, I always did fly in the face of convention), with her long hair crowned with a garland of flowers, clutching her stuffed animal. Whit a shaky voice she gave her name as a response to the first question, "Who approaches this threshold?" When the next question came, "Are you ready to leave behind your childhood, as you become a Maiden?" she whispered, "No!"

" Well", I said, "When you are ready to step over and join our circle leave your toy behind." She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and put down her toy. Then she stepped over the red ribbon and fell sobbing into my arms.

"Welcome, Maiden, on the path to Womanhood", I greeted her. I touched her with the feathers, saying, "May the air fill your sails and send you soaring". Circling her head with the candle I said, "May the fire not scorch you, but make you strong". Sprinkling water on her I added, "May the water of life flow freely and gently for you" and with red clay on her head I ended, "May the Earth be a place of joy for you". Then I offered her a taste of honey with the words, "Growing up brings with it the sweetness of life". I sprinkled some salt on her tongue saying: "And also bitterness of life. As you mature I know you will learn to handle both." With a luscious red strawberry came, "May you never hunger," and with a drink of black currant juice, "May you never thirst." Then I presented her with her Maiden gifts. I placed a hearth shaped necklace ("May this heart protect you!") around her neck and a shell bracelet ("May this bracelet embrace you with the love of your family!") around her wrist. With the flames of their own the circle of girls reached over the red ribbon and lighted her red candle.

Looking at the smiling (and crying) women I reminded her, "As you travel on the road to Womanhood and you encounter fears and difficulties remember that you are not alone. Here is your circle of women that will help you and guide you. And remember that I will always be there for you no matter how heavy your burden."

Then I offered her the stuffed animal with the words, "Even though you are a Maiden now it is always good to know that you have a precious little girl inside you. Keep this as a symbol of your childhood and my love for you."

I have asked everyone to bring a stone and a blessing or a wish for her and with my stone where the words Follow your heart were written I read her my blessing. It was inspired and borrowed from different poems I have found.

On the Road to Womanhood

Be free to be you
Be strong, yet gentle,
Be proud, yet loving.
May your body always be
A blessing to you,
A sacred grove of love and pleasure.
So care for your body
As you would for a beautiful garden.
Your womb can now bring forth new life
But remember yours is the power
To open or close the gates of life
In your garden.
Therefore yours is the responsibility
To be a conscious gardener.
Open to the embrace of love
When you find the one
Who is truly deserving.

Back in the circle each of the girls and women presented her with her stone and a wish. Some bought stones with Japanese symbols some choose stones from their gardens. My younger daughter searched the dried streambed for a perfect smooth stone on which she wrote Joy, Happiness, Generosity. It was touching to see the two sisters, who usually have more than their share of disagreements, to put it mildly, with tears in their eyes hug and express love for each other. Other stones bestowed on her blessings of courage, wisdom, health, love, knowledge, strength and financial independence. She wrapped all the stones in a black cloth and tied it with her red velvet ribbon, to keep as a memory and a reminder of what she should be striving for.

We ended our gathering with a Navajo Puberty Poem that my daughter read aloud.

Watch over me.
Hold your hand before me in protection.
Stand guard for me, speak in defense of me.
As I speak for you, so do ye.
As you speak for me, thus shall I do.

May it be beautiful before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
May it be beautiful around me.

I am restored in beauty. (Girl's name), may you walk in beauty! (Women responding)
I am restored in beauty. (Girl's name), may you walk in beauty!
I am restored in beauty. (Girl's name), may you walk in beauty!

After another round of singing, among shouts of joy she was congratulated and hugged and kissed and presented with lovely gifts of earrings and necklaces and perfumed soaps.

No celebration of course would be complete without a feast. We filled the glasses with red wine and cranberry juice, and feasted on many wonderful dishes that women brought; pasta with red peppers, risotto with chunks of red tomatoes, pizza, tomato salad, raspberry mouse cake, strawberries, cherries and watermelon. And despite it not being red a lot of chocolate!

It was a magical evening with tears and laughter, good food and song, but mainly a special feeling of conectedness, sisterhood and the joy in beauty and strength of women. Among the party favors that went home we included the red candles used in the ceremony. Hopefully one day the girls will get to use them in their Red Ceremonies.


A FEW TIPS FOR A SUCCESFULL RED CEREMONY

involve your girl in planning (let her dream her wildest dream, then scale back)
let her choose the guests she is comfortable with
involve the guests (preparing food, bringing flowers, writing down blessings)
decorate the place with red and white, flowers and candles
include the four elements and/or elements from your religion
incorporate a transitioning as in threshold ceremony
bestow a special gift
end with a feast (red or ethnic foods)
music (song, instruments or dance)

SUGGESTED READING

For daughters:

Besides the numerous books for girls, easily accesible, but of more technical nature a warm and positive chokefull of personal stories book Sweet Secrets: Stories of Menstruation by Kathleen O'Grady and Paula Wansbrough, Second Story Press, Toronto, Ontario1997

For Mothers: Progressing from easier to more difficult reading

Honoring Menstruation by Lara Owen, The Crossing Press, Freedom, California, 1998
The Curse, A Cultural History of Menstruation by Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton and Emily Toth, New York: Dutton, 1976
The Wise Wound by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, New York: Grove Press 1978,1986
Blood, Bread, and Roses, How Menstruation Created the World by Judy Grahn, Beacon Press, Boston, MA 1993
Betwixt&Between, Patterns of Masculine and Feminine Initiation by Louise Mahdi, Steven Foster and Meredith Little, eds. , La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1987

SOME OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES

Ceremonial kit with booklet First Moon: Passage to Womanhood by Ann Short, Helynna Brooke, The Brooke Company, San Francisco, CA 1997 1-888-965-4812

Menstrual Goddess statues Bell Pine Art Farm 82535 Weiss Road Creswell, OR 97426 1-800-439-6556

Information and support with red ceremonies Daughters of the Goddess (925) 256-8109 e-mail HYPERLINK mailto:Leimermaid@aol.com Leimermaid@aol.com

Mysteries of Life Judith Barr P.O.Box 218 North Salem, New York 10560 (914) 669-5822 e-mail: HYPERLINK mailto:Judbarr@judithbarr.com Judbarr@judithbarr.com

Menstrual Health Foundation Coming of Age Training Tamara Slayton, director 708 Gravenstein Hgwy N #181 Sebastopol, CA 95472 (707) 829-8044 e-mail: HYPERLINK mailto:irmc1@cyclesinc.org irmc1@cyclesinc.org

Web sites (There are quite a number of web sites on this subject from very medical to very pagan, here is a sampling, play with the links!)

HYPERLINK http://www.celebrategrils.com www.celebrategrils.com HYPERLINK http://www.mum.org/armenjc.htm www.mum.org/armenjc..htm HYPERLINK http://www.jazgordon.com/pparent/information/life.htm www.jazgordon.com/pparent/information/life.htm HYPERLINK http://www.bodymatters.com www.bodymatters.com