A Comprehensive Guide to Christening Etiquette

The christening of your child marks the beginning of a special and unique relationship between your newest family member and your chosen faith. There could no more memorable event than this one, and many families understand the importance of ensuring every detail is taken care of, from the church to the invitations to the christening outfit – this last detail is something every parent can carefully pack away in folds of tissue paper afterwards, to be cherished forever as a memento of this special occasion. There are certain steps you can take to make sure your baby’s christening goes smoothly, so we’ve provided a comprehensive guide so that no detail, however small, is left out.

The Ceremony

The christening ceremony is known as a baptism, or infant baptism, by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England. These usually take place during a normal Sunday service with lunch afterwards, which means several families might see their children baptised during a single service. You might be able to arrange a private christening if your priest or vicar is a friend or relative, and this is also more likely to be possible in the afternoon with tea to follow, depending on your church’s timetabled service.

Although most churches will allow photography during a christening service, you should check with the vicar or priest first just to make sure. Providing they are happy to permit photographs being taken, a few photos of your baby with special guests including the priest or vicar, parents, godparents and grandparents can be a lovely way to commemorate the occasion.

christening

'Dylans Christening' by Sue Hixson

When it comes to choosing an outfit for your baby, white is the firm and traditional favourite in both Anglican and Catholic traditions, and it’s wise to stick to this. As well as a white gown, consider a white shawl and socks with booties for the baby, especially if the christening is taking place at a colder time of year. A christening outfit really is a one-off, so consider having one made especially for your baby.

Parents and guests can opt for smart dress in light colours, and men may decide to wear a jacket and tie, although overly formal dress is not required. A hat can be a great touch for women, particularly for a Catholic christening, since some Catholic churches still ask women to cover their heads, although this is rare in English churches nowadays. Conversely, men should remove their hat in church if they are wearing one.

Church of England Christenings

The vicar will lead the ceremony, in which the parents and godparents together declare their belief in God, and vow to raise the child in the teachings and traditions of Jesus. Usually the mother will hold her baby during the ceremony.

bible

The sign of the cross will be made on your baby’s forehead, followed by a washing away of sins represented by the pouring of water over the child’s head. A candle will be lit after the pouring of water, representing Jesus as the light of the world and, if the christening is taking place during a public service, the congregation will join the family. After the ceremony, the register will be signed by a member of the baby’s family, traditionally the father.

Roman Catholic Christenings

Whilst similar to an Anglican ceremony, Roman Catholic christenings can often take place sooner after the baby is born and involve an acknowledgement of the christening as one of the seven sacraments. The holy water in which the baby is anointed will in addition contain consecrated oil, usually olive oil with balsam.

Godparents

The Church of England stipulates that all godparents must be baptised and if possible also confirmed, whilst in the Catholic tradition one godparent of the same sex as the child must be an actively practicing Catholic. The traditional number of godparents is three: two of the same gender as the baby and one of the opposite sex. It’s not unusual however for a child to have six or more godparents, usually made up of trusted friends and close family.

It’s a good idea to choose a godparent based on how you think they will support and relate to your child as he or she goes through life, rather than choosing one for reasons of wealth or status. It’s a rare and special honour to be a godparent, and if asked it’s unlikely the person you choose will say no. It’s not unusual to opt to be godparents reciprocally and this can often work out very well, resulting in stronger bonds between the families.

godparents

'Sanna and Godparents at Baptism' by Terren in Virginia

A longstanding tradition once the christening has taken place is for a godparent to give the baby a present they can keep for the long term, for example jewellery or a financial investment of some kind. A very traditional christening gift will be something made of silver. In addition to the initial christening present, godparents are expected to give birthday and Christmas presents until their godchild’s 18th or 21st birthday, as well as a wedding present if they get married.

The etiquette for the godchild as they grow up is to value and stay in touch with their godparents, and a good way to start this is by encouraging them to write thank you notes for every gift they receive from each godparent, as well as trying to foster a good relationship with their godparents through spending time with them when they can.

Invitations

Although many people choose to send electronic invitations or even invite guests to their child’s christening via Facebook, such a special occasion merits a written or printed invitation that you can keep a copy of as a keepsake. This doesn’t necessarily mean the invitation needs to be formal; let your christening invitation reflect your individual personality and attitudes towards parenting. There’s nothing wrong with a fun and colourful christening invitation, for example. Whether you opt for this or prefer to keep things classic, be sure to include the name of the guest you’re inviting, the address of the christening and the location of the reception afterwards, the time, date and the full name of your new baby. Remember to include an RSVP. It’s a nice touch to include a short handwritten note, personalised to the guest, on each invitation. You can design your invitations yourself, or alternatively pre-printed cards are available which have spaces left blank to fill in the names and details required for the day.

invitations

If you give an RSVP date then you can prepare for the day more easily and well in advance. Keep a guest list to hand and mark your guest’s replies as they come in. Most guests should understand that the tone and wording of their reply should match the tone of the invitation, or you can include an RSVP card which they can return to you with the options of attending/not attending.

The Reception

Since christenings are more often than not for young babies who need their routine and rest, christening receptions are often kept to no more than a couple of hours. Refreshments should be provided according to your budget and tastes, but most people will wish to include a christening cake. A popular tradition is to save and re-ice the top tier of your wedding cake if kept, but otherwise a cake of any style appropriate to the occasion is fine, whether shop-bought or homemade. It’s not necessary to provide a full lunch; a light buffet with drinks should suffice.

Christening Cake

'Christening Cake' by Eldriva

Long speeches are not a traditional part of a christening reception, but you may wish to ask a godparent to say a few words or make a toast to the baby. Keeping it short and sweet is probably best. Similarly, some people will bring a gift, especially godparents and close family, but this is not necessarily expected of everyone. Have an area set aside to keep presents just in case, and be sure to make a note of who gave what so that you can write thank you notes to those who have chosen to give something.

Just like a wedding, a christening is a family affair. Guests of every generation should be invited if possible, and catered to accordingly. That said, you’re not expected to invite everyone you know, and often it’s a good idea to keep your baby’s christening small and fairly low key. Certainly godparents and close family can be included on your guest list, but beyond that it is entirely at your discretion, apart from the vicar or priest who has baptised your baby, and their spouse. Do bear in mind however that they may not be able to come to the reception if they have another church service to attend.

Naming Ceremonies

Although not an essential part of your baby’s christening, a naming ceremony is an increasingly popular option for many parents with a new baby, and can take place either before or after the official christening, albeit on a different day. A naming ceremony is neither a religious nor legal affair, and isn’t necessary to register your baby’s name, but it’s something you can opt for if you’d like to celebrate the naming of your child in addition to or as an alternative to a christening. A registered secular celebrant can be invited to preside over the ceremony, after which they can present the parents with a naming certificate. As an alternative to godparents, you might wish to invite a few close friends or family members to be ‘supporting adults’ for your child, which means they will be expected to take on a role and responsibility similar to a godparent.

naming ceremony

Another way of celebrating the naming of your baby in a secular and informal manner is simply to have a naming party or naming day. This can involve inviting friends and family to your home for an afternoon party with drinks and a toast to your new baby, or alternatively a gathering at a local public place like a hall or lodge, with lunch provided. When it comes to naming parties or naming days, there are no traditional rules to follow, and the party can be as small or as large as you like, although smaller parties are usually better where newborns are involved. Most guests like to bring a present, and godparents or supporting adults can be officially named on the day, although of course they will need to be asked privately in advance if they’re happy to accept the role. Finally, a simple and quiet lunch at home with a few well-chosen close friends and family is an intimate yet significant way to mark the naming of your child, and some parents find this is their preferred way to celebrate their baby’s beginnings once they have given them a name.

Regardless of the style or size of your baby’s christening, it should be a day to remember. Plan each detail carefully and well in advance to alleviate any unexpected stress, which is definitely to be avoided when you are experiencing lack of sleep and your little one is keeping you up.

This comprehensive guide should help you to chart your way through planning the event from start to finish. When it comes to choosing a christening gown for your baby, Little Doves takes care of the all-important details, providing christening wear of every type and style. The range includes options for both boys and girls, and parents can choose from traditional gowns and bespoke tailoring as well as Royal, Orthodox, Victorian and Scottish styles to name a few. Fabrics of the finest quality are used for each garment, and accessories including jackets, waistcoats, bonnets and bibs, as well as booties, capes, shawls and even baptism towels are also available, all in traditional perfect white. There is nothing more special than your new baby, and no better way to mark their coming into the world than with a christening or naming ceremony. Choosing an outfit from Little Doves ensures they are dressed for the occasion with the delicacy and care they deserve.