Although a christening is associated with the Christian faith, in some form or another all denominations hold a special ceremony to welcome a new life into the world.
Traditionally, a christening is a ceremony for a person at the beginning of their life, involving a ritual of purification with blessed water so they can be protected and guided on their spiritual journey through life.
However, it’s not just Christians who perform an official ceremony to welcome and name a child. It’s interesting to note that across the world, the ceremonies of different denominations, cultures, countries and religious beliefs have similar elements to a Christian baptism.
Each country and faith has a variation of its own traditions, rituals and even superstitions surrounding the naming or baptism of a child.
Here’s a look at nine alternative christening traditions from around the world.
Most babies in Italy are baptised in the Roman Catholic faith. The ritual of wetting the baby’s head at the baptismal font is similar to that of the Church of England, although Italian christenings always take place during a full Holy Communion mass.
Traditionally, the baby wears a long flowing gown that has been bought by the godparents. The child to be baptised is carried on the right arm if a boy and on the left arm if a girl, and the person carrying them mustn’t turn around when entering the church to ensure the child grows up strong and courageous.
After the service, the godparents traditionally throw sugared almonds to the gathering outside the church.
The christening is celebrated with a lavish meal. Pane degli Angeli, a sponge angel cake is served to every guest to bring luck.
Before leaving, guests are presented with a bomboniere, a small gift bag containing five sugared almonds, pink for a girl, blue for a boy. The almonds represent health, wealth, happiness, fertility and a long life.
In the past, a Maltese child was baptised as soon as possible after the birth for fear it would die and go to hell. In Malta, a child is not considered a Christian until they have been baptised.
Godparents must be a married couple and are usually relatives of the parents.
Like Italy, almonds play a symbolic role in the celebratory meal. Traditional delicacies include glazed almond macaroons called biskuttini tal-maghmudija and it-torta tal-marmorata, a spicy, heart-shaped chocolate and almond tart. A liqueur made from rose petals, violets and almonds is also served to toast the newly baptised child.
Prayers to St Brigid, the patron saint of newborns, are included in Irish Catholic baptism services. A silver coin is also placed in the baby’s hand during the ceremony to bring wealth and good fortune to the child.
Traditionally, babies wear a bonnet made from the handkerchief the mother carried on her wedding day, which is sewn on the eve of the christening. When the child gets married, the bonnet is made back into a handkerchief for them to carry on their wedding day.
The top tier of a couple’s wedding cake is traditionally made with Irish whiskey and is saved for the christening of their first child. The crumbs from the cake are sprinkled over the child’s head to symbolise the circle of life and to bring the child good luck and health. Today, couples tend to save a bottle of champagne from their wedding instead and open it at the christening to toast the baby.
Christening tradition in Scotland stems back to a folklore superstition. In the past, the period before the baby was baptised was considered dangerous and parents were extra vigilant. They feared that their unbaptised baby would be stolen from its crib by malevolent fairies that would put a changeling in its place.
It was forbidden to reveal the baby’s name, say it out loud or for others to compliment the child in any way before the baptism, to prevent the fairies from finding out there was an unbaptised child in the house. A bible or prayer book was also placed in the baby’s crib until the baptism.
After the ceremony, it’s traditional for guests to give a coin to the child for health, happiness and prosperity. In the past, the closest neighbours were obliged to make fuarag, a mix of oatmeal and whisky that was served to every guest. Bread and cheese were also traditionally served and guests drank whisky from an intricately engraved, shallow cup made from wood or silver called a qualch. Today, a qualch is still a popular christening gift in Scotland.
At Ukrainian christenings, the child is wrapped in a plain, undecorated, white cloth provided by the godmother. In the past, the godfather brought bread and a bottle of horilka to pay the priest. Today, it’s customary to bring money instead.
The godparents take the child to the church as it’s forbidden for the parents to attend. A girl will be carried by the godmother and a boy by the godfather. The parents are expected to wait at home and prepare for the baby’s return so the festivities can begin.
The midwife who delivered the baby is considered an honourable relative and is also expected to attend the christening.
During Soviet occupation, baptisms in Ukraine were frowned upon, as were all religious ceremonies, so baptisms during this time were done secretly. Before the Soviet occupation, children were baptised soon after the birth, but because of the need for secrecy during this time baptisms couldn’t be organised until some time later, often when the child had already reached their first birthday. As an after effect of the Soviet period, Ukrainian baptisms today are often celebrated when a baby is one year or older.
6. Greek Orthodox
During a Greek Orthodox baptism, the sacraments of Chrismation (confirmation) and sometimes Holy Communion take place at the same time.
Greek Orthodox christenings only require one godparent. They are traditionally a koumbara, the maid of honour or bridesmaid at the parent’s wedding, or a koumbaros, the witness or sponsor at the wedding. It is also traditional for the godparent to choose the name of the child, although this is usually agreed beforehand with the parents. The godparent is responsible for paying for everything used during the ceremony such as candles, towels, a donation to the church, and the baby’s outfit. The parents are responsible for the reception costs.
At the beginning of the christening ceremony, the baby is undressed by a female relative, usually the grandmother, and wrapped in a white or ivory towel.
The priest anoints the baby’s head with blessed olive oil then the baby is submerged in the baptismal font three times in order to receive the gifts of the Holy Trinity and to symbolise the three days when Christ was entombed before rising again.
During the Chrismation, the priest anoints various parts of the baby’s body: forehead for thoughts, chest for heart and desires, eyes, ears and lips for senses, hands for work, and feet for the spiritual walk through life.
The priest carries the child around the baptismal font three times to represent the dance of joyful angels. Three locks of hair are cut from the baby’s head and formed into a cross to symbolise obedience and sacrifice. The baby is then dressed in a white gown to symbolise the purity of their soul. At this point, the baby may receive Holy Communion. At the end of the ceremony, the parents will kiss the hand of the chosen godparent.
After the ceremony, the baptism is celebrated with a lavish meal of traditional Greek dishes such as souvlaki, pastitso and baklava.
According to tradition, the baby should not be bathed for three days following the baptism. On the fourth day, the baby is bathed and the bath water used to water flowers. On the following three Sundays after the baptism, the baby receives Holy Communion at church dressed in their original christening gown. The baby is usually taken to church by the godparent, who will light the same candle that was used in the baptism service.
It’s traditional for the godparent to present the child with an Easter candle and a new pair of shoes every Easter, and to give the child a gift on their name day.
In Iran, Islamic naming and bathing ceremonies are complex affairs and involve a number of rituals. However, some elements bear similarities to Christian baptisms.
Immediately after the birth, the baby is dressed in a long, white robe called a peerahan e ghiyamat, meaning ‘dress of resurrection’. The head is covered and attached with a blessed pin that wards off demons. Then khak e torbat, a blessed clay, is touched and placed in the baby’s mouth to protect it from bad spirits during the first 40 days of life.
On the sixth night, the baby is presented to the local clergyman and officially named. The clergyman will ask the parents to write down their choice of names on a piece of paper which he places inside the Quran. The clergyman selects one of the choices at random, and the name of the baby is decided.
After the naming, a special feast is prepared and the mother is allowed to eat rice for the first time following the birth. Delicacies include sheehandaz, a dish made with fried onions, vinegar and eggs.
When boys are ten days old and girls seven, a bathing ceremony takes place. Mother and child are accompanied by female relatives to the public baths to be cleansed and purified. The baby is held over their mother’s head and doused with water from a jam e chehel kud (cup of forty keys). The water is blessed to protect the mother and child from evil and ill health.
Eleven days after the birth, the baby is presented at the temple for a special naming ceremony called Namakarama. Prayers are said, blessed water is sprinkled over the baby’s head and amrita, water sweetened with honey, is placed on the baby’s tongue. Amrita in Hindu means ‘immortality’.
Another important ceremony takes place when the baby is six months old. Annaprasura is a celebration of the baby tasting solid food for the first time. Prayers and mantras are said and the baby is offered kheer, a type of spiced rice pudding, in front of a priest. The ceremony takes place in the temple or at home.
The Jewish version of a christening is a special naming ceremony for babies in which baby boys are also circumcised. The ceremony is called Bris for boys and Zeved Habat for girls.
A Bris takes place on the eighth day after birth, while a Zeved Habat takes place anytime after the birth though is usually held in the first few weeks. The naming ceremony can be held at home, but often takes place at the local synagogue.
Babies are given a Hebrew name that has special meaning for the parents. Traditionally, European Ashkenazic Jews, name the child in honour of a deceased relative. Middle Eastern and Spanish Sephardic Jews prefer to choose the name of a living relative. During the ceremony, the parents are asked to explain their choice of name and the significance it has for them. In modern times, Jewish babies are often given a secular name as well as their Hebrew name, which they use in every day life.
Once the ceremony has finished, the parents and child are greeted by the other guests with the phrase mazel tov, which means ‘congratulations’. The ceremony is followed by a lavish meal, celebrations and gifts for the baby.
When a baby’s born, it’s traditional to plant a cedar tree for a boy and a pine tree for a girl. The tree will then be cut down in years to come when they plan their wedding to make a huppah, a type of gazebo under which they will marry.
If you’re looking for the perfect christening gown for your baby’s special day, visit the Little Doves website or contact us if you’d like to place a special request.