A Christening or Baby Naming Ceremony is a joyous and meaningful occasion. It’s a time for celebrating, as family and friends gather for this traditional welcoming of a newborn into the world.
Christening.JPGThe birth of a baby is a reaffirmation of life for everyone – parents, family and friends – and the ritual of the Christening, together with the festivities that follow it, formalises the welcome that everyone wants to give the new arrival. Although the baby may remain unaware of the fact, this celebration marks his or her first tiny steps into the life of the community.
A world-wide ritual
The Christian sacrament of Baptism is similar to the time-honoured customs of many other cultures that welcome a new baby with ceremonial and symbolic purification.
When the early Christians baptised a baby, it was unclothed and fully submerged in flowing water. If it cried, this was seen as a good omen that would drive out bad spirits. By the seventeenth century, total immersion had been replaced by the symbolic sprinkling of holy water over the baby’s head. These days it’s possible to baptise babies during a Sunday service but also can be arranged individually.
The parents and god-parents are asked to affirm their faith on behalf of themselves and the child. After the ceremony everyone gathers to “wet the baby’s head” and share the christening cake. Sometimes the cake is the top tier of the parents’ wedding cake, a tradition started in the twentieth century, but the eating and drinking is a remnant of the feasting which was intrinsic to the earliest purification rites.
In the ancient world, Hebrew, Egyptian and Greek infants all underwent ritual immersion as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. Today, the Jicarillo Indians of Mexico pour water from sacred rivers over the infant’s head, while singing to it of the earth’s riches.
A name for life
The christening may be the first occasion on which the baby’s names are declared publicly, and it was believed to be unlucky to tell the names beforehand.
Every culture recognises the power of names, and prospective parents spend hours debating their choices in the hope that a name ringing with admirable qualities will ensure that the child lives up to it.
For the non-religious, baby naming ceremonies are arranged within the family to celebrate the arrival of the child into the family.