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Christening

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This article deals with celebrations relating to the baptism of babies and young children. For a specific discussion of the religious aspects of baptism, see Holy Baptism. For christening of ships upon their initial launch, see Ship

Christening is the name given to observances surrounding the welcoming of children into the Christian faith. It is an entrance rite into the religion, into the specific congregation and into the community of Christians worldwide.

Religious Rites

See Holy Baptism

The religious ceremony is called Holy Baptism and is an obligatory sacrament. The majority of Christian denominations call for the baptism of infants and young children, but some baptise people as adults.

Baptisms are usually performed in a church. They may be public or private, but in modern times they tend to be celebrated as part of regular services, both in recognition of the idea of a community celebration, and due to the pressures of modern schedules (so that people do not have to find a special time when all family and friends can attend a baptism, and many baptisms can take place at once). Baptisms are often celebrated on feast days and in holy seasons. Eastertide is a popular time for baptisms, probably due to the symbolism of new life.

Because of the importance of the sacrament of baptism, there is generally no problem scheduling a private ceremony, if one so wishes. In some catholic and orthodox traditions the baptism must take place as soon after the birth as possible and no later than the second Sunday after birth unless actual illness precludes it. It some countries, baptisms are performed in hospital. In an emergency (i.e. a matter of life and death, such as at the scene of an accident) if there is no priest present, any baptised Christian may perform a baptism. This should be recorded as soon as possible after it takes place.

The home baptism was once popular among Protestant denominations, but is not often seen today.

Godparents

Many denomations require godparents. These are people, usually intimate friends of the family, who agree to undertake the baptisand’s religious education. The godparent is expected to take a special interest in the child, and give the godchild birthday and Christmas gifts. As godparents are usually intimate friends of the family, they often bring token gifts to other children in the family as well, particularly if the other siblings are very young and likely to feel "left out", but the godparent is under no obligation to do so.

The status of godparent does not confer any legal obligation or financial responsibility, nor any rights to guardianship of the child. Parents who want the godparents to have legal guardianship of their godchild in the event of the parents’ death or incapacity must consult the laws of their country and arrange for this accordingly.

Secular observance

The christening party

The terms baptism and christening are often used interchangeably when speaking of religious ceremonies, but one rarely hears any reference to a ‘baptismal party’. This is almost always called a ‘christening’.

Attire

the baptisand

  • Infants—white christening dress (also called christening gown) for boy or girl. White is not a religious requirement but is the most common colour used. The christening garment should be as fine and well-made as the parents can comfortably afford. The style may be simple or ornate. Natural fibres and handmade garments have been preferred traditionally but etiquette does not frown on well-made synthetics.

Heirloom gowns are preferred, and some are famous, as the Christening dress of the British and Danish royal families.

Christening gowns are a competitive class (category) in sewing and knitting competitions.

  • Toddlers, older children. Girls are generally still attired in white dresses, sometimes with pastel decoration or occasionally in pastel coloured dresses. Boys wear their best dark suit.
  • Guest attire varies according to local custom, but Traditionally Guests dressed as they would for church, although in modern times people may need to be instructed to dress more formally than they do for church! Afternoon tea dress is appropriate: dresses, nice skirts or suits for women, suits for men.

Neither the baptisand, the parents nor godparents wear black at a christening.

The meal

Traditional meal for a christening party was a tea party. Today, this varies greatly, and is usually whatever meal follows naturally after the church service, with the party food of the locality.

A christening cake is traditional and still a feature of christening parties. This is a light cake with white icing, with or without pastel decoration. Like the christening gown, dcorated christening cakes are a competitive class in shows and fairs.

Gifts

It is appropriate to give a gift to the child being baptised. The traditional godparent's gift is a silver spoon; godparents and family might also give a silver cup, bowl, plate or a set of all of these.

Religious jewellery or medals may also be given.

Most guests give clothing and layette items; toys are also commonly given, as are savings bonds.

Traditions around the world

References