An important milestone: why is turning 21 so significant?

By Sam Aebi | @samaebi

21st birthday celebrations are often one of the most important celebrations for a young adult, and for many it is also the first time they organise their own event.

This ‘how-to’ guide of common 21st celebrations will give you all you need to know on the milestone trend, of which people dub ’21st season’.

Where does the importance of turning 21 come from?

In the US, 21 is the age where it is legal to purchase alcohol and cigarettes, and to enter nightclubs and other age-restricted venues.

However, Australia permits these activities from the age of 18, and 18th birthdays are generally celebrated with an event or a night spent in bars and clubs. This is the same for the UK too.

So why is 21 still viewed as the most significant birthday?

The general consensus is that most people view it as a cultural tradition and the celebration as a reflection on their life so far.

In Australia, there is also the view that turning 21 is the less tangible point of becoming an adult than turning 18. Although the 18th milestone provides a person with the legal ability to act as an adult, turning 21 acts as the maturation point after three years of adapting to adult responsibilities (and excessive drinking).

Adelaide University commerce student Hayden Kirkwood celebrated his 21st milestone last year at The Grove Tavern in Golden Grove, hiring out part of the venue’s beer garden for a cocktail event.

“I had a fairly small celebration for my 21st and just invited my friends and godparents,” Mr Kirkwood said.

“I planned for about 50 guests and probably got around the 40 mark. I like that I could finally see some friends that I may not often see and catch up.”

Mr Kirkwood explained that ordering cocktail food platters from the venue was cheaper than organising a sit-down meal for guests, and the convenience of hiring out part of a tavern meant the bar was close by and easy to access.

“It didn’t cost a whole lot and I only started planning it a few months ahead. The only thing I disliked was the venue was packed,” he said.

Contrastingly, BWS employee Nathan Radny celebrated his 21st earlier this year and found the venue to be almost too spacious, despite having a completely private function room.

“It [the event] was in the function room at B.Social restaurant in Oakden. I had a crowd of about 65 including both family and friends,” Mr Radny said.

“I liked the celebration but if I could do it again I’d probably invite more people… and maybe have it in a smaller room as it seemed to be too open.”

Mr Radny found his current role as assistant manager at BWS Hollywood Plaza a benefit as it gave him a better insight into what drink options guests would prefer and provided him with some discount.

“In the end, my parents probably spent about $5000 on the event,” he said.

But 21st celebrations don’t have to come at a cost this high though, as UniSA education student Ellen Davey discovered.

“I spent around $1500 on my 21st, including beverage packages, food and cake,” Ms Davey said.

Even though Ms Davey spent significantly less on the celebration, she still managed to invite a large group of guests to the event at the Strathmore Hotel in the city.

“I invited family and friends, probably around 100 people in total. I liked having all those family and friends there to support me as they all played a major role in my life,” she said.

“If I could do it again, I would have more of a dance floor spot so people could get up and dance rather than just standing around talking.”

Despite the prevalence of cocktail food events and formal dinners, some prefer to throw a smaller celebration, if at all.

UniSA graphic design student Adam Lockier organised a party at home for his birthday, considering cost and guests while planning it.

“I had roughly 50 people at my event. Besides my parents I had just friends as I wanted to keep the two groups separate,” Mr Lockier said.

“Most of the cost was spent on alcohol and food, roughly $250 to $300.”

However, Mr Lockier found hosting the event at home proved a slight challenge, despite the low cost.

“…it [the event] was harder to control than I expected. I’d make sure to lay down some ground rules if I did it again,” he said.

UniSA aviation student Jack Cauchi chose not to organise an event, instead opting to celebrate out, amongst Adelaide’s nightlife.

“I just got some money from my parents instead of doing something. I just went out to town on the Friday and Saturday after my birthday,” Mr Cauchi said.

Many find the sudden influx throng of 21st birthdays over a few months overwhelming, sometimes with invites to multiple celebrations over one weekend.

This idea of a “21st season” is common amongst millennials and some find the social environment one they enjoy, while others prefer to only make an appearance for the birthday celebrant, as Mr Lockier explained.

“…around March it was insane, but I went to every event because I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.

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