So you've been invited to a Christening. What is it anyway? What can you expect to happen? What will you be expected to do? Don't worry. Let's take a closer look at this celebrated tradition.
There are two types of ceremonies; religious and non-religious. Irrespective of which type is chosen, the common theme throughout is love and surrounding the child with family and friends in order to celebrate the child's birth and life ahead.
A Christening is the child's first initiation into the religious faith. At a Catholic Christening, the parents make their declarations, the baby is baptised with holy water, and a lit candle representing Jesus as the light of the world, is given to the parents and Godparents. The priest may ask the parents to attend preparation classes to fully understand the significance of a baptism. Catholic Christenings are often held as a separate service for one or more children. There are no hymns and the service lasts approximately 30 minutes.
Secular (Non-Religious) Ceremonies
There are a range of non-religious celebrations to choose from including a Baby-Naming Ceremony, Welcoming or Thanksgiving. These options are free of any commitment to the Christian faith. People will often include contributions from family/friends, and finish it off with tea or a buffet. These ceremonies last on average 20 minutes.
Christenings are generally held within the first year of a baby's life, although some parents wait until the child is a little older.
Generally, photography is welcome during all types of ceremonies but it may be worth checking with the person presiding first as the congregation or gathering is likely to be invited to photograph the child, family and Godparents at specific points during the ceremony.
The child will usually be dressed in a special Christening outfit/gown or family heirloom garment. Women would be expected to dress smartly - hats are not necessary, and for men, suits or smart shirt and trousers. Ties are often not a necessity, particularly for summer ceremonies.
After the ceremony, a buffet or tea is generally served at the parent's home. The child will be shown off to all the family and friends, and Christening gifts are generally presented to the child. After the buffet, the official cake may be cut, and at this point, some people choose to plant a tree or dedicate a plant which will grow with the child.
Role of the Godparents
There are usually three Godparents - two the same sex as the child. The role of the Godparent comes from the days when converts to the early Christian church were usually adults whose parents were not Christians. The Godparents role was to provide a Christian mentor to help them through life. People also link the role of the Godparent with that of becoming 'legal guardian' should the child ever be orphaned. However, this would need to be written into a will with the permission of the Godparents themselves. Non-religious participants usually engage a 'mentor' who will watch over the child and steer them through life with help, care and advice.
Godparents are chosen for their own Christian beliefs but also because they are very close friends of the parents, or other family members. Godparents or guardians should be people who are going to be around to offer support for the child if needed.
Many people prefer a traditional gift idea for a Christening such as pewter, silver or china; these are great gifts for the child to treasure. Another nice idea is to provide a photo album or keepsake box to store precious memories of the child's special day. For religious ceremonies it is common for a silver cross and chain or a bible to be presented to the child.