Congratulations on the birth of your baby. Now is the time you begin to settle into life as a new parent, or become used to juggling the responsibilities of a larger family. Whichever it is, you’ll be thinking about how to welcome this new child into the world properly.
For many of us in culturally Christian countries, the next step is to organise a christening, but how do you go about it? Where do you start and how can you remember everything you need to do?
The best way is to make a thorough to-do list in order of priority to avoid those chaotic last minute panics, and mark them off as you go along. Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider.
If you want your child to grow up as a Christian, then the christening or baptism is the first step on that journey. However it’s not just those with strong faith who opt to christen their children; it’s often a rite of passage in the wider community. If we’re really honest, it also helps when you want to get your child into that excellent nearby church school at a later date.
These days it’s quite fashionable to simply have a blessing at birth and a christening later, as many believe a young baby can’t possibly understand what they’re committing themselves to, and both parents and clergy may have concerns about making that commitment on the child’s behalf. However if you prefer the traditional route, there’s plenty to plan and do in advance before you think about the religious implications. Christenings are also popular amongst celebrities with a number choosing to make a public announcement about their child's special day.
Once you’ve decided to opt for a traditional christening, where do you start? The obvious place is the church. You’ll need to talk to your vicar, so if you’re not regular churchgoers it might be diplomatic to pop along to the Sunday service a couple of times before you ask the question. Some clergy are quite relaxed about church attendance, but others may want to see the child and parents on a regular basis before and after christening.
If your vicar is one who’s a stickler for church attendance you may be asked about your own religious observances and those of the godparents too, so bear that in mind.
Once you’ve got the vicar’s approval, you’ll need to ask whether it’s to be a special service or part of the regular Sunday worship. You may have the option to book a service of your own but it’s also possible the christening will be expected to take place at a public service.
Before you choose a date for the service, it’s vital you make sure everyone you need is available. There’s no point having a service if the godparents can’t attend.
Choosing godparents is one of the first things you should do before planning a christening. Knowing who they are and their availability will be key to selecting a date for the service. Often, the godparents will also be keen to help with planning, which can be a great benefit as anything of this nature can get stressful. On the flip side, it can be a problem if you prefer to do things yourself!
Traditionally, the role of the godparents is to guide the child in their faith. With that in mind, they were usually chosen for their own strong Christian beliefs. This is still the preferred way of doing it in the eyes of the church, but in reality most parents choose close friends.
However it’s worth being careful when choosing godparents. It’s no good just picking anyone from your circle. You’ll need to know what role you’ll want them to fulfil in your child’s life and most crucially you’ll need to ask yourselves whether they’ll still be friends in ten years’ time. Will they be able to offer support to your child if needed for the whole of the next eighteen years?
Traditionally a girl would have two godmothers and one godfather, and for a boy it’s vice versa. Though essentially it’s up to the parents how many godparents to name and which sex they are.
A christening gown is important for your baby but do remember how quickly they grow! Don’t buy a gown today if you know the ceremony isn’t going to be for six months, as they’ll have grown out of it. Wait until you know when the ceremony is going to happen and then buy something of the right size. It seems an obvious point to make but plans can go awry and if the date has to move you could be left with a gown you can’t use.
Often the child’s gown will be custom made or supplied by a specialist in christening clothes - if you are considering this option then you know where to come! In some families there are christening dresses handed down through the generations, so make sure there isn’t one available already before buying a new one. It's also important to choose the right accessories for the gown.
It was once the role of the godmother to provide the christening clothes. This rarely happens these days, however it’s always worth consulting her beforehand to maintain a connection with that tradition. Alternatively you could ask a specialist to convert your wedding dress into a christening gown, which we'd also be happy to help with!
Of course the baby is always going to be the centre of attention, but amidst all the planning don’t forget to choose your own outfit!
The service itself is probably the least difficult part of planning a christening. It’s very formulaic and in the hands of the vicar, so apart from remembering what you have to say, this is a time that should cause you little worry. However, there are still a couple of things to do to ensure it runs smoothly.
If it’s your own service rather than a regular service, be clear about the time and ask guests to turn up with a quarter of an hour to spare. Yours may not be the only event that day so it’s best to start promptly and not overrun. The whole service should take no more than half an hour.
Be aware that even in the height of summer, many older churches can be very cold so make sure the baby is warmly dressed and take a spare set of clothes in case of accidents!
It’s customary to have a post-christening party of some sort. This can be in the form of a quiet reception or something a little more raucous; the latter colloquially called ‘wetting the baby’s head’.
This is not strictly part of the religious ceremony, but is an important event if people have travelled some distance and if you’ve got friends and family you don’t see too often.
If this is going to be a major part of the day take a little time over the guest list, and send out formal invitations. Make sure the invitations include the date and time, the location of the service and the party afterwards, as well as any dress code. If the guests don’t know your area, be sure to include directions and details of parking and public transport too. Send the invitations out several weeks before the date and ask the guests to RSVP, as this will allow you to plan for numbers.
Knowing exactly how many people are going to come is important when planning your venue and the food and drink. Also be well aware of how many children there are going to be; if there are quite a few be sure to arrange a location where they’ll have plenty to keep them entertained and where they’ll be safe. This is especially important if you know the alcohol will be flowing.
Naturally, before you book the after-service party be clear about your budget. A post-party hangover isn’t necessarily alcohol induced and if you’re paying for it for months to come, it may not seem like it was such a good idea.
Don’t forget to invite the vicar to join you too.
Planning food and drink to serve at the reception is one of the most complicated parts of planning such an event. It can be tempting to plan a menu and do your own cooking, but remember you’ll all be at the church for the service, so who’s going to stay behind and do the cooking?
If you’re going for the self-catering option, plan your menu carefully so that things can be cooked in advance – it’s no good leaving the pots on the stove when you’re all going to the church. For this reason a cold, pre-prepared buffet is often the most appropriate form of refreshment to serve, but if you really want to do a cooked meal it might be as well to arrange for professional caterers to come in, or to book a restaurant as your venue.
If you’re using your own home for the event, it’s a good idea to provide decorations. Balloons and streamers will help to provide a celebratory atmosphere, while you should buy pretty napkins and paper plates for the table, as with a lot of guests you probably don’t have enough of your best crockery to go round. If it’s a buffet meal, it’s safer to have non-breakables in any case.
Don’t forget to obtain some fresh flowers for the church as well. This is often a good idea to mask the cold, grey stonework and is generally warmly appreciated by the vicar too.
Entertainment for the after-service party is about so much more than having background music playing, though for most of the adults, this, alongside plenty of food and drink, is all you’ll need.
However if you’ve got a lot of children there as well, you’ll want to provide things for them to do so they don’t get bored with all the grown-up socialising.
Have games and events planned in advance; ideally ones they can do with minimal adult input though generally there’ll be a few adults happy to help out. Older children may enjoy a film or two, so make sure you have some suitable ones available.
These days, guests will often want to know if there’s a gift policy before they arrive, but there is a good deal of etiquette to pay attention to when letting people know. After all you’re not supposed to expect gifts are you?
Maybe you don’t want people to bring gifts, or you’d rather they make a donation to charity. If this is the case, you should indicate as such on the invitation with the words ‘no gifts please’, or ‘donations to charity’. You may want to provide the name and details if it’s a particular charity you wish to benefit.
If you’re happy to receive gifts, then it’s polite not to say anything at all as guests will then assume that gifts are expected and bring them along.
You may also want to give gifts to commemorate the event. A lasting and symbolic gift for your child is appropriate and it’s good to give the godparents a symbolic gift too. If you want to give gifts to all your guests, then sweets are a fun and traditional idea.
A christening is one of the most important celebrations of your child’s life so you’ll want to record it for posterity. Hire a professional photographer if you want to be sure to have your memories preserved on film, and do this well in advance. You can also ask your guests to take pictures – most likely they will anyway – and provide some means for sharing them later. However be aware that some churches don’t like pictures being taken inside, so check this first.
We’ve tried to cover all the most important aspects of planning a christening, but of course there isn’t a definitive list. We’re all different and each have our own priorities. A lot also depends on the place you live and the people you’re inviting so keep an open mind to any extras that may apply to you and, most importantly, enjoy your child’s big day!