Upsherin is a Jewish ritual in which a child, usually a boy, experiences his first haircut at age three. The tradition of waiting until age three for the first haircut comes from the Torah: "When you...plant any tree...[f]or three years [the fruit] shall be a forbidden growth, and it may not be eaten." (Leviticus 19:23). The child is being compared to the tree and is considered ready to begin his formal Jewish education. As such, Upsherin parties are a way to celebrate a young child's first step into formal education and aging.
At an Upsherin party, parents and family may give short speeches wishing the child healthy growth in learning and body, and they express love and appreciation for the child's wonderful qualities. Blessings are said over the child, and the first snip of the haircut is given. Usually the first snip is in the hair at the center of the forehead, to symbolize wisdom, learning and insight. This may be done by a grandparent or a community wise person.
Depending on the child's comfort level, other important family members and friends may also snip locks of the hair as they bless the child and express hopes for his future. The long hair pieces may be donated to Locks of Love or a similar organization. The haircut may be finished in a professional salon as the parents desire.
Much food and celebrating is done at an Upsherin. The child will have been prepared ahead of time to recognize the first haircut as a happy occasion so he is not afraid. Often small party favors are given to everyone attending as a remembrance.
Orthodox boys begin wearing a kippah (head covering) and a tallit katan (small version of a tallit worn under the shirt to remind one of the constant presence of God and the Commandments) at age three. The Upsherin also celebrates this rite of passage for the child.
Upsherin parties are not traditionally done for girls, however some communities have started to include girls in order to celebrate the first haircut, or have a party. Upsherin is usually an Orthodox Jewish tradition, although Reconstructionist or Renewal Jewish groups may also observe this event.
Bat Mitzvah lessons help prepare a Jewish girl of age 12 or 13 to take on the responsibilities of leading a Jewish life. In most Jewish denominations, girls as well as boys celebrate this milestone in their Jewish education.
When looking for Bat Mitzvah dresses, you want something that will be versatile so your daughter can wear it to the ceremony and then modify it a bit for a less formal luncheon.