The safe arrival of a new baby is certainly something to celebrate – but what’s the best way to do it? Is your preference to have a christening or do you prefer naming ceremonies?
Every community in the world has its own way of marking the birth of a baby – but in the west the traditional ceremony, the christening or baptism, doesn’t suit a lot of families any more because many aren’t churchgoers and therefore feel a service of initiation into the Christian faith is inappropriate.
But there are other options in addition to the christening ceremony worth thinking about. And think about the timing of your celebration too – baptisms were traditionally held in the first few months after a baby’s birth, but many couples find they’ve got too much on their plate to hold a party too. Why not wait until your baby is six or nine months, or even a year old before you lay on a celebration – you’ll probably find you enjoy it a lot more if the stressful early months are behind you.
Do you want a christening?
Many parents like the idea of marking their baby’s arrival with a church ceremony – but a baptism does involve making promises about bringing him or her up as a Christian, and some vicars and most Catholic priests take these promises very seriously and may not agree to a baptism unless you are going to attend church at least from time to time in the future. If you feel comfortable with this, a baptism is a wonderful way to mark a child’s birth – and many churches carry out baptisms as part of their main Sunday worship, so there’s a real sense of the whole community celebrating with you.
But a baptism isn’t the only form of Christian welcome. Another option is the Anglican service of thanksgiving and welcome, which gives thanks for the new baby’s arrival and calls on God’s help for his or her life ahead. This ceremony can be held apart from the main Sunday service, and is on the increase as a way of marking a baby’s birth without the strings of a full-blown baptism.
How about a naming ceremony?
There are other options for non-believers or those who don’t feel comfortable with a church setting: a humanist naming ceremony, or a civil christening. “Naming ceremonies are a lovely way of marking the birth of a baby and they can be tailored to suit the family concerned,” says Hanne Stinson of the British Humanist Association. “Parents can put together their own service including poetry, music and readings, and the venue can be anywhere – in your own home, at a castle, out of doors.”
Just as in a christening, you can choose godparent-equivalents (sometimes known as supporters) and the ceremony can be as formal or informal as you choose, and the BHA can – for a fee – provide a trained celebrant to lead the proceedings. For more ideas on how to organise a naming ceremony, visit www.humanism.org.uk where there are details of the BHA’s book New Arrivals by Jane Wynne Willson and Robert Ashby which is full of ideas on how to organise a ceremony and what to include, or go to www.civilceremonies.co.uk.
The baby’s outfit is almost as big a part of the traditional christening as the bride’s is on her wedding day. Some families, like the Royals, even have an ancient garment which has been worn by generation after generation.
Sometimes the garment may have become a bit yellowed and dog-eared over time, but don’t dismiss the idea of getting it cleaned or restored for your baby – there’s an important symbolism in having the garment as a thread which has run through your family’s history for many years. Or you might like to start your own tradition by investing in a baptismal robe which your child could use for his or her own offspring in the future.
Babies don’t have to be kitted out in olde worlde gear just because they’re being christened – simple, modern white and cream outfits can be stunning too. In the past boys as well as girls would be clad in flowing dresses for their baptism, but there days many parents feel they’d rather have their little boy in something like a silk sailor suit or a white all-in-one.
One tip: whatever you choose for your baby to wear, wait until the last possible moment to put it on, and get some photographs taken straight away.
Also, when you choose your own outfit bear in mind that it may be difficult to stay spotless – patterns or dark colours can work better than something light which can easily be marked. And do have another outfit in reserve in case there’s a disaster and you have to get completely changed during the party!
Godparents for the 21st century
What’s the role of a godparent in the world of today? Actually, it seems, quite a lot – and according to a Babyworld survey, many of you think so. When we carried out a poll recently, two thirds of respondents said they’d be recruiting godparents for their offspring.
The idea of a godparent came about because converts to the early Christian church were usually adults whose parents were not Christians. The role of godparent was to provide a Christian mentor to help them in their journey as they embraced their new faith.
Over the years the role was refined to a supporting one in which other adults – often, in the Anglican tradition, two of the same sex as the baby and one of the opposite sex – agreed to help the parents instruct and inform their new offspring in the Christian faith. But this role has been eroded, and these days for many families the religious significance of a godparent is less apparent than the honorary status.
Encouragement and support
But that’s not to say that there isn’t a role for a godparent as another supportive adult a parent can turn to for advice and help. Many parents hope their child’s godparents will share, with them, a special interest in his or her upbringing and development – and many hope that, as the years roll by, their child will develop a special relationship with his godparents.
In fact as many of us no longer live close to our extended families, this supportive role of godparents could be more important than ever. “When I chose my daughter’s godparents I hoped they’d be people I could turn to for a bit of help in the way I might turn to my sister if I lived nearer to her,” says Andrea Simmonds. “I don’t want to burden them, but it’s nice to think that they’re people who I can call and say, help! Could you have Olivia for a night, I’m really stuck!”
Others link the role of godparent with that of ‘legal guardian’ and ask them to take on the responsibility of bringing up the child if he or she was ever to be left orphaned. If you’d like this role for your child’s godparents and the godparents are happy with it, you need to write it into your will with the help of a solicitor.
How to choose godparents
A member of your family or a friend – that’s the first dilemma over who to choose. Some people feel family members already have a role where their child is concerned – others feel that they might lose contact with a friend, so it’s better to go for someone who’s a relation.
It’s usually seen as a great honour to be chosen as a baby’s godparent, but it’s certainly worth thinking about what the person you’ve asked will think their job entails. If you want a godfather who’ll send a card and small gift on your child’s birthday each year it makes sense not to ask your beach bum of a brother who’s never managed to send a card to anyone on time in his life.
For a traditional Christian baptism, you’ll need to find at least one godparent who is a genuine believer. Also, some people who aren’t believers may find the idea of making promises in a church unacceptable – you may want to recruit one ‘believing’ godparent and one or more ‘unbelieving’ godparents, in which case make clear to the latter people that they’re not expected to renounce the devil loudly in church on the day!