Period celebrations around the world

For many women and people with uteruses, getting their first period can be scary, surprising, exciting, stressful or just seen as inconvenient and annoying. In the UK, getting a first period is seen as a rite of passage by some, while annoying and/or too soon by others; either way, we don’t really make a big “whoop-de-doo” out of it here. But in some cultures around the world, getting a first period is a major life event that can be celebrated as lavishly as a wedding. 

Yet in some places around the world, being on your period is laden with stigma and taboo. In some cases, the menstruating person is excluded from even the most basic daily activities. 

Read on to find out how period traditions vary across cultures.


When a person gets their first period in some regions of Japan, their mother makes a traditional celebratory dish called “sekihan”, which consists of sticky rice and adzuki beans. The slightly red colour of the meal symbolises happiness and celebration and it is served for festivals, birthdays and many other happy occasions. While the mother knowingly makes this dish, it’s up to the rest of the extended family to guess why they are eating it and whether the child has officially got their first period.

North America

The Apache tribe in North America celebrate a young girl reaching puberty with a four-day Sunrise Ceremony. This time is viewed as something truly sacred and an event to be commemorated. It takes place in the summer of the person’s first menstrual period and consists of rituals and blessings – and hours upon hours of dancing, singing and prayer.

These rituals are not only symbolic; the Apache teachings claim that the child being celebrated temporarily becomes an incarnation of “Changing Woman” – the first lady and woman of the child’s people. The child dances facing east, toward the rising sun. Then they run in four directions, which represent the four seasons and stages of life – from infancy and childhood to young adult and elderly. 

The ritual is very detailed, including the child holding salt in their mouth to protect against evil, an eagle feather being placed in their hair for guidance and strength, and pollen dusting areas of their body, symbolising fertility. The child also has to keep their fingers closed during the ceremony, for if they open, it is believed that they will fall pregnant straight away.

South India

Dr Hana Patel is a South Asian private GP and mental health coach, with a special interest in women’s health, living in the UK. She told us about her personal experience of South Indian culture surrounding periods. 

When a girl reaches menarche – when she starts her period – there is a ‘puberty ceremony’ called Ritusuddhi, or a half-sari function,” says Dr Patel. “There is a celebration of the first period. It is seen as a time when a girl reaches womanhood, and is celebrated with her being gifted sarees, Indian sweets and jewellery. Family and friends come together, usually women, and there is a religious ceremony with a priest, ‘a puja’, on certain days of the month that are considered holy. The days in question change as it depends on the lunar calendar, but these days will be shared with the family by the priest himself. 

Dr Patel explained that the news of the person getting their first period is announced to the whole household, though she acknowledged that in other cultures it can be seen as a time when the person is unclean and excluded from certain parts of the house such as the kitchen, as well as from the house temple or a temple outside. 

“In many parts of India, menstruation is still considered to be impure in the Hindu faith,” says Dr Patel. “There is a religious reason for why there is a difference in attitudes regarding periods around India. My mother grew up in Gujarat in North India, and tells me of how she was shunned when she had her period and had to avoid going to the temple, and was not allowed to go to the kitchen. This related to her strict Hindu upbringing. In particularly religious households, girls are told to rest and to stay away from certain parts of the home. Whereas in Sikh households in North India, there is no restriction regarding going to the Sikh temple, nor are there any areas that are off limits within the home.” 


Murshida, a Bengali woman in her late twenties working in London, described her experience getting her first period in her home country of Bangladesh. 

“When you get your first period it’s like an “Oh No!” says Murshida. “ But here [in the UK], it means you’re independent – a sign of growing up. In my country, they see it as a negative thing.

“When I had my first period, my mum deeply sighed. For the mother, it is stressful. She can’t imagine that I have any love relationship with anyone. When you are 16/17-years-old and you have a love relationship with someone – obviously you get intimate. But it’s totally restricted. So she was concerned. She told me: ‘Make sure you do not get involved with any boy!’

“If you got pregnant, your life will be destroyed. You will be described as a bad person. And ‘I am not a virgin’ meant a lot at that time. Now it’s getting better. Now, no one cares about it to be honest.” 

During her period, Murshida explained how she could, for the most part, do whatever she wanted, except for some religious things like touching the prayer mat or taking part in daily prayer. When her period finished, she’d have to wash all of her bedsheets and bed covers, and then take a deep shower (“paksha”) where she’d cut her nails, wash her hair very well and remove underarm and pubic hair. 

Murshida emphasised how important it was that she hid her period products so no man would see them. “When I got my period I used to buy pads from the chemist. When I said I wanted a sanitary napkin, the guy wrapped the pad in newspaper. I didn’t ask him to wrap it, but he did. This is something you have to hide. This is something you have to hide all the time. It’s changing now. But not as much as we wish.”

Now that she lives in the UK, Murshida appreciates how much more open it is here. “I think in this country, you don’t mind saying: ‘Oh, I’m on my period, I’m having some pain.’ I think you don’t mind saying this here – like loudly. We can’t imagine that in Bangladesh.” 

Check out our other article on why our periods can be painful and how to make that time of the month a little easier. 

As a mother of two girls, she adds: “I don’t mind if my daughters aren’t shy about it, I’m happy – I don’t want them to be shy about it. But I had to be.”

United Kingdom

Hayley Merrick is a menstrual mentor & expert on menstruation, periods and womb wisdom with a background in nursing. Although she admits that we’re moving in the right direction of more positively viewing periods in the UK, she believes there is still so much work to be done.

Hayley explained that she thinks there is still taboo – taboo we aren’t even aware of – surrounding menstrual periods in the UK. “It’s just so deeply ingrained within our culture. I mean if you think about it, in the Victorian Era – that’s only six or seven generations ago – that we could have actually been at risk of being incarcerated for hysteria. If you think ‘hyst’, ‘hysterectomy’, ‘hysteria’, that’s where that word comes from. Actually like ‘womb madness’. And generally, that was just for having an opinion as a menstruating person outside of the status quo. 

“I think we’re in a culture where periods are very medicalised. Like myself, I was on various birth controls for around two decades…and it was only when I started to do this work and realise I was on a pill to stop me getting pregnant…that you have to start to question and think to yourself that our cycle is really not appreciated.” Head over to our other article to learn more about when you might be fertile in your cycle

Hayley argues that by tracking our cycles, we can feel empowered by tuning in and noticing. Even if we’re using hormonal contraception, Hayley suggests that we can celebrate our periods if we have a withdrawal bleed by connecting with the moon, using moon time as a way to have a cyclical celebration throughout the month. Check out our other article if you need help on how to get to know your menstrual cycle.

Other ways we can celebrate our periods is to use positive language and to speak to those who aren’t using positive language. Hayley says: “It has such a big impact on us when we hear people being derogatory about our body. I think it really links into all the stuff that’s coming up now about using filters and trying to have this ‘idea of perfection’. I think if we’re not accepting our body at the basic level – of the normal and healthy processes that we go through – that’s so fundamental to everything.” 

She also recommends creating a beautiful first period box containing menstrual products, reading books on menstruation to educate ourselves so we feel like we have choice, and letting the person getting their first period know that they are loved, supported and can ask questions. Other ways to celebrate might be wearing a certain piece of jewellery or wearing red clothing, having a journal or just getting outside and staring at the moon. 

Hayley explains how she uses a special red towel when menstruating. “I remember being so embarrassed about staining. No one ever told me if was ok to stain in my pants or on towels. My mum never said it was wrong, but she never said that was OK. So I had a lot of shame and embarrassment around that. So just making a ritual of having a special towel.”

Ultimately, Hayley believes that “we’ve got to start with what feels comfortable”, and also as a parent, “to be sensitive to what people actually want”.

One final word…

There are so many different menstrual rituals all around the world and varying lenses through which periods are perceived. However you might celebrate, or not celebrate getting a first period, know that there’s always a community here at ellaOne® to answer your questions. All you have to do is #AskElla. 

Words: Nicole Gilmer