How 7 Different Cultures Approach A Child’s First Haircut

Those scissors are a rite of passage.

by Chris O'Shea
Originally Published: 
A dad standing behind his child in a high-chair, cutting their hair.
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Deciding when to cut your child’s hair for the first time is a big deal. There’s just something about those first sprouts that feels special. But what often ends up happening is you sit your crying toddler in the chair, assure them it won’t hurt, snap a few Instagram pics, and go on your way. Ice cream may or may not be involved. A celebration, or haircutting ceremony, it is not.

In many cultures, however, that first haircut is a right of passage treated with great reverence. For some, it’s a family affair, with all members of the extended family lopping off a child’s locks. For others, it’s a celebration akin to a baptism (or that other snip session, the Briss) that follows strict religious protocol. Here are some of the most interesting first cut traditions and haircutting ceremonies around the world.

In Hinduism, Haircutting Is A Sacred Event

For Hindus, haircuts are part of a series of cleansing rituals known as saṃskāras. A baby’s hair is seen negatively, as it can carry undesirable traits from former lives. Hindu boys get their first haircut — typically a complete shave — during odd months or their first or third year. For Hindu girls, their first haircut is usually around 11 months and doesn’t involve getting completely sheared. In either case, families usually travel to a temple for the ceremony, which signifies purity and an auspicious future.

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Mongolian Families Take Turns With The Clippers

Mongolian babies, depending on the lunar year, get their first haircut between 2 and 5 years old. In a ceremony, family members and guests take turns cutting a piece of the kids’ hair and offering wishes — like “Have a happy, healthy life” — toys, and cash.

First Haircuts In Orthodox Jewish Families Take Cues From Sacred Texts

Never let it be said that Orthodox Jewish parents aren’t patient. According to their traditions, babies don’t get their first haircut until they turn 3, in a ceremony known as upsherin (Yiddish for “shear off”). Why 3? The tradition stems from a verse in the Torah that states a man is like a tree, and in Israeli law, trees cannot be harvested until they’ve matured three full years. An upsherin, held at temple with friends and family members, marks the start of a child’s formal education and shows that they are ready to start studying the Torah.

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In The Polynesian Tradition, Cut Hair Comes With Cool Gifts

Polynesian culture might have the best first haircut ritual. The ceremony is basically a party, in which kids sit on chairs and are covered in special quilts known as tīvaevae. As the child’s hair is sheared, friends and members of the community cover them with money and gifts.

Chinese Haircutting Ceremonies Focus On The Red

While Orthodox Jewish parents wait years for the first haircut, tradition-minded Chinese parents only wait one month. The shearing ceremony is known as a “good luck” haircut because many years ago Chinese babies had a high mortality rate. Red, which signifies good luck in Chinese culture, plays a large role in the first haircut ceremony — a lot of red-dyed foods are present and babies often don a red hat post haircut. Although some babies have their heads shaved, many parents choose to simply give their kids a trim.

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Traditional Muslim Families Don’t Wait Long To Bring Out The Clippers

Muslim babies get their first haircut a mere seven days after being born. The hair is shaved to show that the baby is completely cleansed and thus ready to begin life as a Muslim. Typically, the hair is weighed, and its value is donated to a charity. If the hair doesn’t amount to much, families can simply make a small donation.

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Apaches Are An Outlier In Native American Haircut Rituals

For Native Americans, long hair is a symbol of maturity, and therefore many tribes refrain from haircuts unless someone is in mourning. The Apache tribe, however, takes a different approach and holds a haircutting ceremony each spring. The haircut encourages health and success and is often accompanied by a small celebration.

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