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Baptism and Christening Traditions

Baptism, Christening and Naming traditions and ceremonies from around the world

Australian Aborigine

The Wikmungkan tribe in north-eastern Australia carries out the naming ritual during the actual birth of the baby. The midwife calls out the names of all the child’s living relatives one by one. The name chosen is the one being called at the moment of the final stages of the birthing process when the placenta (or birth sac) is removed from the mother. There is a special bond between the child and the relative whose name is given. Soon after, a ritual is held to protect the baby’s health where special leaves are burnt by the mother and grandmother, with the child being held near this purifying smoke.

Buddhist

When a baby is born into a Buddhist family, monks are invited to the house to bless the baby and chant from the holy texts. Based on the exact time and date of the birth, an astrologer will draw a horoscope and inform the parents about the initial that the name should begin with; the parents will then choose a name accordingly. Within one month of birth, the baby is brought to a temple for blessing and placed in front of the statue of the Buddha.  Offerings of flowers, candles and incense are made and the monk blesses the child, announcing his or her name. In some forms of Buddhism, sacred threads are tied around the baby’s wrists to welcome ‘Khwan’, a spirit that looks after babies.

Chinese

It is considered unlucky for a baby to be properly named before birth.  The meaning of the name is usually personal and known only to the parents. The name could represent an aspect of nature, the environment or even mystical qualities. New-born babies sometimes get a plain, ugly or meaningless name to trick evil spirits into ignoring them.  Later on, at a more notable stage in life, they are given an adult name. Although the baby’s personal name is chosen soon after the birth, the celebration takes place after 100 days have passed.  The Hundred Days party is to celebrate the baby’s survival of the crucial first 3 months and guests are served with special foods and tea. All Chinese children of one generation share the same middle name and there is a cycle of 24 generation names, it can take several hundred years to go through the cycle.  When the baby is a year old, another custom is carried out. The baby is offered a tray of objects relating to different professions, such as paint brush, farm tool, medicine, money, and so on.  It is believed that whatever the child grasps will be his or her future profession.

Christian

Usually the baby is named and blessed after a few weeks or months following the birth.  The traditions vary with each branch of the Church. Some have a baptism or christening, while others have a service of blessing and thanksgiving.  There may also be a baptism as part of a confirmation service when they are older.  For a christening, the family gathers in the morning at a church and the baby is dressed in a white christening gown, often passed from one generation to the next. The parents have to choose godparents who will help the child to live as a Christian and will act as guardians in the absence of the parents.  The priest asks the parents to give the ‘Christian’ name they have chosen for the child. The priest then says a prayer of blessing over the water in the font and then pours it on the baby’s head, making the sign of the cross.  One of the most symbolic elements of the christening ritual is when the baby has water sprinkled on the head. This symbolises purification and the fresh start of a life. Catholics believe that by doing this, the child is reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit, cleansed of the stain Original Sin, and reborn through Christ's death and resurrection.

The Doctrine of Original Sin is a very significant pillar of many Christian denominations, so this part of christening traditions remains an important part of the ceremony.

Then the priest calls the baby by name and welcomes him or her into the Christian Church and the community. A record of the christening or baptism is recorded in the church’s register, which was traditionally how births were documented before official records began. There is usually a celebration at home or in a hired venue, where gifts are given to the baby.  Objects made out of silver, such as spoons and rattles, are considered particularly lucky.

England

In early English tradition, brides rarely kept their gowns for their daughters.  They had the fabric used to make their first child’s Christening gown.  The bride often carried a handkerchief that was later sewn into a bonnet for the first baby.  Upon the marriage of this child, the bonnet was turned back into a handkerchief for the child to carry on his or her wedding day.  The top tier of the wedding cake was often made as an Irish whiskey cake that was then saved for the Christening of the first baby.

Greek Orthodox

About the Orthodox Baptism

The sacrament of baptism and chrismation brings great happiness to the Orthodox Christian family. Baptism cleanses an individual's soul of original sin. The special service entails the infant being immersed in the baptismal font three times, symbolizing the three days Christ spent in the tomb. This event is a reenactment of Christ's baptism, death and Resurrection. After immersion, the priest places the child in the open arms of the godparent, who holds a new white sheet as a symbol of the soul's purity.

Immediately following the baptism, the priest administers a second sacrament, Chrismation, where the child receives the gift of the Holy Spirit with miron, a special oil blessed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. Three locks are tonsured (cut) from the child's hair in the form of a cross.

After dressing in new clothing, the baptismal candles are lit and the priest, godparent, baptised infant, and chosen children walk around the baptismal font.  Following the reading of scriptures, the priest administers a third sacrament, communion, to the child. Preparing for the Ceremony - Items Needed

Baptismal Candles Provided by the godparent, one large decorated candle for the ceremony and smaller white candles to be carried by the children who circle the font. The traditional decoration of a baptismal candle includes a large bow of ribbon or tulle with streamers.

Martyrika Also known as martirika, or witness pins – these are small lapel crosses handed out at the end of the ceremony and worn by guests as proof of witnessing the baptism. The traditional pin is made of white, pink or blue ribbon and features a tiny cross or icon in the center.

Bombonieres Also known as boubounieres or candy favors – are almond candy favors given to each guest after the baptism by either the godparent or the parents of the baptized child. Styles can range widely for these favors. Traditional favors are simple white, pink or blue puffs of tulle tied with a ribbon and filled with white Jordan almonds. However, styles can range widely and can extend to the elaborate, distinctive and fun. The gift of bombonieres is an Eastern Orthodox tradition over 3,000 years old. Filled with koufeta – jordan almonds – the favors are given as tokens of good fortune and happiness. Bombonieres are symobolic of life with their bittersweet taste. The sugar coating represents the hope that life will be blessed with more sweetness than bitterness. Bombonieres are always filled with an odd number of almonds. The odd number is indivisible and symbolizes the union and indivisibility of the newly married couple.

Additional Items Needed - 2 white hand towels - 1 large white bath towel for wrapping the child - 1 white sheet - 1 bar of soap - 1 small bottle of olive oil - 1 baptismal cross and chain (traditionally a gold cross) -  Proof of current good standing in the Orthodox church -  A new change of clothes for the child after Baptism. All clothing should be white.

Hindu

There are several ceremonies to do with the birth of a child in Hinduism. Before the birth, prayers are said at the temple for the child’s future health and happiness.  Throughout the pregnancy the mother reads and recites from the Hindu scriptures so that they have a positive influence on the unborn baby. Soon after birth, the auspicious word ‘Aum’ is written in honey on the baby’s tongue. The exact time of birth is noted and a pundit calculates the lucky initials for the baby according to the corresponding astrological constellation. The family then has to decide on a name beginning with one of those initials. After 40 days, the baby is taken to a Hindu temple for the ‘namakarama’ or naming ceremony.  The priest announces the name and says prayers for the long life, health and well-being of the baby. Blessed water is sprinkled on the baby and a few drops of ‘amrit’ (sweetened water) are put on the tongue.  When the baby is about 6 months old, there is another ceremony ‘annaprasana’, when he or she is given a first taste of cooked rice.  At the first birthday, the baby’s head is completely shaved for the first time, as a symbol of leaving any bad deeds from a past life behind and making a fresh start in the new life.

Humanist

Today many parents want to make new, non-religious ways of celebrating the birth of their baby.  Humanists don’t pray to a god but value the life of every human being.  They have a ceremony to celebrate a new life and the love of the parents.  Friends and relatives gather to offer good wishes for the child and amongst the festivities there may be readings of poetry and songs as celebration.

Inuit

The native people that live in the frozen Arctic lands in north Canada, Alaska and Greenland, hold a naming ceremony called ‘atiq’ where the baby is just a few days old.   Atiq  (pronounced ‘a-teek’) which means both ‘name’ and ‘spirit’, is the name of a family member who has died, usually a beloved older relative, like a grandparent. The Inuit believe in reincarnation and that the child receives the relative’s spirit, as well as his or her name. There are various ways of finding the right atiq, which include a birthmark in the same place as the departed or a dream of the dead relative while the woman is pregnant. It is also believed that a baby who cries incessantly when born will stop crying once the right atiq is given.

Isle of Man 

It was necessary to take great care of children before baptism to protect them from malevolent Fairies who would steal a child and leave a decrepit and emaciated Fairy in its place.  One way to protect the child was to place an iron poker on the child when left alone or to tie a red thread around the child’s neck.  Then taking her child to be christened, a woman would take a piece of bread and cheese with her that she gave to the first person that she met.

Israel

An Israelite was never baptized by water.  They were born under the terms of the covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-12).  But Gentiles who desired to become identified with the Jewish people entered into the water as an outward symbol of an internal commitment of faith in Jehovah as their one and only living God.

Italy

The Godparents provide the gown and everything that the baby wears on the day.  They also provide something else for the baby to wear after the cake is cut.  The godparents receive a gift from the parents of the baby.  Bonboniere given at a Christening will consist of five sugared almonds (either pink or blue) representing health, wealth, love, prosperity and happiness.

Japan

Boys in Japan are given a short, simple name soon after their birth, which they use until their teens.  As they approach adult status, there is a special ceremony where they are given a longer, formal name to be used by everyone outside their family. A month after birth, the baby is taken to a Shinto shrine.  The priest says prayers and waves a ‘tamagushi’, made with bamboo and white paper over the baby’s head, symbolizing purity and a clean start in this life.

Jewish

The naming ceremony for Jewish boys is held on the eighth day after birth, usually together with the ritual circumcision. This is carried out at the home, at a synagogue by an official, called a mohel, or in more recent times, in a hospital by a doctor. According to tradition, only male relatives are allowed to be present when the circumcision is carried out. The baby is then welcomed into the community and his name is announced both in Hebrew and English. Jewish baby girls can be named at any reading of the Torah, but increasingly families are choosing to have a blessing at a synagogue, followed by a celebration similar to that for boys. Each parent, relatives and friends, all say prayers for the baby’s health and a happy life.  There are gifts for the baby, speeches about childhood and a lavish meal for everyone. It is also traditional to plant a cedar tree for a boy and a pine tree for a girl.  Later, when the child is old enough to marry, the birth tree may be cut down to make a ‘huppah’, a cover on four poles under which the couple will marry.

Latvia

The baby’s godparents host a name-giving ceremony, or Krustaba, nine days after the birth. It is held at the parent’s home and lasts for two days. A baby girl has two godmothers and one godfather, while a boy has two godfathers and one godmother. They are chosen by the parents and are usually from among their relatives. Since it is believed that the child will inherit their godparent’s good qualities, the parents choose them with care. The ceremony begins in the morning with guests arriving with gifts for the baby and food for the feast. Guests wear their finest attire and the talk must be all on happy topics.  During the actual ceremony the godparents promise to care for the child.  They are also the ones that select and bestow a name upon their godchild. There is a feast with dancing and gifts are given to the baby.  The godparents also prepare a suitable cradle and leave a special gift in it for their godchild.

Muslim Aqiqah

As soon as a Muslim baby is born, the father or grandfather whispers a prayer in its ear so that it is the first thing he or she hears. A child must be given a name within seven days and the parents may take suggestions from grandparents, other relatives or from the imam (priest). The names are usually chosen from the Holy Quran.  Within seven days a ceremony called ‘Aqiqah’ (pronounced ‘a-kee-ka) is held, in order to thank Allah or God.  During the celebration, prayers are said and the baby’s head is shaved. The hair is weighed and the family must then gives at least the same weight in gold to charity. The baby is given a taste of honey as a symbol of the sweetness of prayer. There is a feast for friends and relatives with one or two goats being killed and one-third of the meat distributed to the poor as a way of thanks.  If the child is a boy, he will be circumcised usually within two weeks of his birth, although some Muslims leave this until the boy is at least four years old.

Native American

The Hopi tribe of Arizona in south-west USA, have a special naming ceremony when the baby is 20 days old.  Before dawn on the day, a large dish of corn and lamb stew is cooked over an outdoor fire.  Meanwhile indoors, the baby is bathed and rubbed with a corn cob, which is symbol of life for the Hopis. Then each guest presents a gift to the child and rubs cornmeal on the child’s forehead.  Then just as the sun is rising the grandmother takes the baby outside and while standing on a specially made patchwork quilt, holds him or her up to the sun and announces the name.  All the guests return indoors and sit on the floor on quilts.  A small portion of the lamb stew is served on a plate and placed outside the door as a symbol of thanks to the earth for providing food.  Everyone then shares the meal served with blue corn bread and a sweet cornmeal pudding.

Nigerian Yoruba

On the seventh day after the birth of a baby girl and on the ninth day for a boy, a name is chosen for the baby.  Apart from the family name, the child is given several other names. One of the names describes the circumstances surrounding the birth, for instance, the name Idowu means ‘child born after twins’. The parents often also have a pet name that indicates what they hope for their child, such as Ayoke, meaning ‘one who is blessed’. The oldest member of the family carries out the naming ceremony. Relatives and friends attend wearing brightly coloured clothes and bring presents of money and clothing.  Musicians play drums and traditional poetry is recited. The baby is given a taste of honey to symbolise the wish for a sweet life.  Then the parents announce the baby name and the relatives are invited to add extra names if they wish – a Yoruba child may end with twelve or more names!

Pagan

The ancient nature-worshipping pagan tradition of ‘saining’ dates back to pre-Christian times and is held within 9 days of the child’s birth.  Family and friends stand in a circle in a clearing of woodland trees.  The baby’s name is spoken aloud for the first time and he or she is held up to greet the earth and the sky.  After this the baby is passed around the circle to be introduced to friends and family. A tree may be planted to symbolize the new life.

Russia

A belt was an extremely important object in peasant Russia.  At birth the body of the baby was encircled by a “belt” often no more elaborate than a single scarlet thread.  During the Christening ceremony a child was given its first proper belt and a gift of a cross.  Both of these objects became an attribute of the person’s life as a Christian.  If a child or adult walked about for even a short time without wearing a belt they were not considered a baptized Christian. The belt was to be worn next to the skin at all times it could not be removed at death since the deceased would wear it at the resurrection of the dead at the Last Judgement

Scotland

On the way to its Christening the child must be carried, at least part of the way, by a young unmarried woman, who must have with her something to eat – usually a piece of bread and cheese.  She must present this to the first man that she meets, no matter who or what he may be.  The name that a child is to be given must never be spoken aloud until the minister speaks it at the Christening ceremony.  If anyone asks they must not be told, nor must the minister be told by word of mouth.  He must be handed a piece of paper with the name written on it.

Sikh

Soon after birth, a respected elder gives the baby a few drops of honey and water, while reciting the first verses of the Japji Sahib, a hymn by Guru Nanak (the founder of the faith).  As soon as the mother and baby are well enough, a naming ceremony (‘Naamkaran’) is held at the gurudwara, the Sikh place of worship. There is a reading from the Sikh holy book, Siri Guru Granth Sahib where the passage is selected by opening the book at random and reading the first words of a passage on the left hand page.  The first letter of the word at the beginning of this passage is taken as the first letter of the baby’s name, which is then chosen by the parents. All boys are given the same second name, ‘Singh’, meaning lion, and for all girls, the second name is ‘Kaur’, meaning princess. As a way of giving thanks for the gift of a child, the child’s parents present richly embroidered cloths, called ‘Rumalas’, to drape the holy book. Sweetened blessed water called Amrit is put on the baby’s tongue.  The baby also has a tiny steel bracelet, called Kara, put on its right wrist.  The circular shape symbolises God, who like the circle, has no beginning and no end. Family and friends are given ‘kara prashad’ a sweet blessed food, made with flour, sugar and clarified butter, followed by a communal meal.

Ukraine

At the time of the baptism parents are not supposed to go to the church.  The Godparents take the child then bring him or her back.  The Godmother brings 2-3 metres of cloth, know as a kryzhma.  She accepts the infant into the cloth once he or she is baptized.  The Godfather pays the priest.

Other birth and naming practices: