From jubilant 70th birthday celebrations to listening to stories with rapt attention, cultures have found unique ways to honor their elders. On October 1st, the United Nations celebrates the 25th annual International Day of Older Persons, a holiday that commemorates the contributions that the elderly have made to society and raises awareness to eradicate ageism.
Ageism, the prejudicial belief that age discrimination or abuse of older persons is socially acceptable, affects the living and working conditions of millions of people worldwide. To combat this, the UN challenges negative stereotypes about aging and celebrates elderly importance by hosting events and developing long-term agendas for societal inclusivity. In the spirit of this 25th anniversary, here are five worldwide traditions that honor the elderly and demonstrate the reverence that they deserve.
China: Like many of its Asiatic neighbors, China’s culture is deeply rooted in Confucian philosophy. Filial piety, one of the traditions of Confucianism, prioritizes elders in the family and calls younger generations to honor them by taking care of them as they age and listening to their wisdom. China’s Elderly Rights Law requires children to visit their parents often to foster family ties.
Greece: The Greek term Geronda literally translates to “old man” and traditionally refers to monastery abbots; however in Greece this has become a common term of endearment for elderly people. It signifies wisdom and closeness to God, reflecting this society’s deep respect for their elderly.
India: Indian families cherish older generations as invaluable sources of wisdom and guidance, and grandparents play a key role in raising their grandchildren. Households often host several generations under one roof, and families turn to their elders to settle disputes and give advice. From how to get kids ready for school, to how to perform traditional festival rituals, elders offer their insight into every aspect of life, passing on their wisdom to the next generation.
Korea: Here, old age is a cause for celebration! 60th birthdays, known as hwan-gap mark the completion of the zodiac cycle, and are celebrated with lively family feasts. The 70th birthday, known as gohui (old and rare), is an even bigger festivity calling for a ceremony where the elder is seated at a banquet table as his or her family offers wine and other gifts.
Sweden: This nation is proud of its extensive senior care programs, and for excellent reason: Sweden has ranked as one of the top three countries for elderly care in the world for the past three years according to the Global AgeWatch Index, allocating 3.6% of its GDP to long-term care. Older persons can apply for in-home assistance, and 94% of Swedes over the age of 65 live at home either independently or with part-time care. The elderly are often involved in sports, social groups, and hobbies, and their wellbeing is a top priority in Swedish society.
Instead of dreading the onset of old age, celebrate the many cultures that commemorate this stage of life with reverence. The 25th International Day of Older Persons encourages countries to strive for the inclusion and appreciation shown by these five cultures, and paves the way for the health and happiness of each generation to come.
Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this article. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Amanda Alden is a cross-cultural communications intern with Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is currently a senior at St. Edward’s University, majoring in Global Studies with concentrations in Europe and International Business, and minoring in French. Feel free to connect with Amanda athttps://www.linkedin.com/in/amandamalden.
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