Shichi-Go-San (七五三) is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan, held annually on November 15, in which three- and seven-year-old girls and five-year-old (and less commonly three-year-old) boys, along with their parents, visit shrines to pray for their growth and well-being. As it is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend.
It’s a tradition going back at least a thousand years to the Heian period, when nobles would celebrate their offspring’s transition from childhood to middle childhood.
Following the visit, parents generally buy Chitose-ame (千歳飴) for the children. The candy is shaped like a stick and comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and turtles--two animals that are symbols of long life. Chitose literally means a thousand years and is used to denote very long periods of time. The candy and the bag are both expressions of parents' wish that their children lead long, prosperous lives.
The shichi-go-san ceremonies held to celebrate the child's growth are not always carried out anymore. Nowadays they are often replaced by just a visit to the shrine to express gratitude and pray for the child's future. Another modern trend is for parents to take the opportunity to have their child photographed in ceremonial finery, and send the photos out to friends and family.