Modern Baby: The Interesting Evolution of the Christening Ceremony
Most Christian parents or legal guardians who baptize their babies simultaneously have a christening ceremony. At this event, the parents or guardians formally announce the baby’s Christian (first) name. Even though christenings have changed a lot over time, they remain very special and steeped in rich meaning.
According to New World Encyclopedia, Ancient Jews immersed themselves in water as a method of ritual purification, a “baptism” of repentance. According to the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was baptized in this way in the Jordan River. He later died on the cross, wiping sin away so that people could know God and have His forgiveness. Jesus’ disciples called for people to recognize this sacrifice, repent and be baptized. Going down into baptismal water came to represent both the burial of Christ and the burial of old, sinful ways. Rising up out of the water represented Christ’s resurrection and being “born again” into God’s family. Some baptized people took new names to affirm that they were a “new” person committed to God and His commandments, and some individuals wanted their children to be saved through baptism, too. Subsequently, it became common for people to baptize and christen babies. However, the persecution early Christians faced, combined with different interpretations of scriptures and other documents, meant that the christening or baptismal ceremony took many centuries to truly formalize. Many Christians, such as Baptists, still entirely reject the notion that babies should be baptized, believing that a person must be old enough to understand and choose Christ’s role and message to go through the ceremony.
The Victorian Era
Christenings became especially popular in the Victorian period. As Victoriana Magazine describes, by this time, people had established two basic ways of christening: in the home or in the church. In either case, the ceremony generally took place when the baby was around six weeks old. Godparents (sponsors), picked as much for their social standing and wealth as their relationship to the family, assumed responsibility for the child’s spiritual education and well-being. In a church christening, the baby’s nurse, sponsors and parents all gathered around the baptismal font with the baby, who was dressed in a long, elaborate gown of white symbolizing purity and innocence. The clergyman asked who the sponsors for the child were and the sponsors bowed to answer. The clergyman then asked for the child’s intended Christian name, repeated it, and baptized the baby. Home christenings were very similar, with the rooms decorated with flowers and everyone formally dressed. The baby often was “on exhibition” for a short time in these cases. After either type of ceremony, parents usually hosted a breakfast, luncheon or, more rarely, an elaborate dinner to celebrate.
Modern christenings retain much of their Victorian flavor, but there are noticeable differences. Babies are just as likely to wear a nice dress or formal suit as they are a christening gown, for example, as OneSmallChild.com shows.
Godparents usually respond to the clergyman aloud rather than bowing. Nurses also are gone from the picture, with one parent (most commonly the mother) carrying in and holding the baby. Many families no longer host a party afterward.
Christenings have a history that spans hundreds of years. The evolution of practice for these ceremonies, however, has not changed what they represent.
Steven Volz is a busy counselor and father of three. When he gets the chance, he enjoys sharing his experiences with others by posting on the web. Look for his illuminating articles on a variety of websites and blogs.