Celebrate the Birth of Your Baby in a Special Non-Traditional Way
We wanted to do something special for our daughter, but a traditional baptism did not seem appealing. Coming from families with rather diverse spiritual and religious beliefs (ranging from Jewish to Christian Scientist to Buddhist) we decided to hold a non-traditional “multi-spiritual” ceremony on her one-year birthday.
To celebrate her birth and first year of life, we took the sacred traditions of many different cultures and religions and adapted them to meet our own personal beliefs. We called it a blessing ceremony, although it could be called a “welcoming,” “naming,” or “dedication”.
You might hold the ceremony at your own home, in your usual temple/church/house of worship, or any nice place. (You may have more luck in a Unitarian, Interfaith, or otherwise liberal church but nowadays many religious leaders are open to diversity and the mixing of traditions). Weather permitting, it can be held outdoors at a park or garden. Our daughter was born in the spring, so we were able to hold the ceremony in our backyard.
We didn’t want the baby to be overwhelmed by a large crowd, so we decided to keep the guest list down by only inviting immediate family and those relatives that lived locally. The number of people you invite really depends on how well your child responds to groups. I would keep the ceremony relatively short — no longer than forty minutes. Most babies (and many adults) will only sit still for a certain amount of time. Also keep your baby’s nap time, feeding time, and “cranky time” in mind and plan accordingly.
You might want to enlist someone you trust to film the ceremony or take photographs. You’ll probably be too busy to take any pictures yourself, and this way you’ll actually be in a few of the shots! I would definitely document the event, so you and your child can remember it for years to come. The truth is, your baby probably won’t realize what’s going on at all. The ceremony is really more for the adults than it is for the children. At times our daughter seemed to truly understand what was taking place, but she did spend most of the time running around the yard and then slept right through the opening of the presents. Now that she is older, she still enjoys viewing the photographs and video of her “special day”. She takes pleasure in knowing that all those people gathered to celebrate the fact that she was in their lives.
We chose a close friend of the family to preside over the ceremony. While she has no official religious title, she is an excellent speaker and walks a spiritual path. If you would like someone to preside over your ceremony, you can choose an interfaith or nondenominational minister or any person who is special to you.
After a short opening statement, her father said a few words about what her name means and how we chose it. Some of our family members are Jewish, so a cousin presented her with a Hebrew Name and read a short Hebrew prayer.
Then her father read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and I read an excerpt from the poem “Three Women” by Sylvia Plath. There are a lot of poems that are appropriate, such as Wordsworth’s “Infant Sorrow, Infant Joy” or anything from Robert Fulghum’s book From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives. There is also a nice piece by Kahil Gibran (“On Parenting”), but you can reading anything that has special significance.
After the readings, she was “baptized” her with water from the River Ganges in India, which is considered holy. In various ancient cultures, another way of honoring someone is to anoint or wash his or her feet. Your ceremony might also include lighting a candle or burning incense.
Her father and I had prepared a set of “parental vows” in which we promised to guard, guide and love her. Then we named her “godparents” and asked them to promise to provide a supportive community to our family by being both mentor and friend to our daughter. We also said a thank you to her favorite babysitter, a close family friend, and gave each of them a special gift.
We introduced her five grandparents and her four great-grandparents that were present. You may want to have your parents or grandparents say a few words about your ancestry or tell a short anecdote about what you were like as a baby. You could also tell the story of your baby’s birth or your pregnancy.
We asked others to share any poems, prayers, special wishes, blessings, advice or symbolic gifts, reminiscent of the gifts given by the fairy godmothers in “Sleeping Beauty” (absent of any evil curses). If you would like to include this in your own ceremony, you should mention it in the invitation so guests have time to prepare something if they wish.
We were touched by the contributions our friends and family made. Her godfather read a sweet and funny poem that he had written. Her paternal grandmother delivered some kind words and my stepfather read a short blessing. My mother gave Imogen gifts of nature (such as a feather for air, shell for water and so forth) and planted a rosebush in our garden. Other “symbolic gifts” included a guardian angel charm, a ring that my late grandfather had made, and a mozel charm (which means “luck” in Hebrew). The final gift came from Auntie JoJo and consisted of fresh flowers to represent different qualities (such as daisies for innocence).
Another idea is to make a “blessing stick” or “blessing crown”. This is relatively easy – simply have guests write their special wishes or messages on ribbons with fabric markers. Then attach them to a stick to hold or a crown of flowers for your baby to wear. You might even choose to insert a ribbon into each invitation, so even family members who cannot attend the party will still be able to send their blessings. For smaller gatherings, you can have guests form a circle and pass the baby around the circle to receive kisses and blessings from each member of the family. (Although not all children can handle this much contact at once – you know your own child’s threshold).
For those of you who are intimidated by the idea of being “creative” and writing your own ceremony, you can simply take a traditional naming ceremony or baptismal and add a few non-traditional elements or personal touches. The “parental vows” may be inspired by wedding vows or you might like to ask a minister for some advice.
I have noticed the underlying similarities of so many cultures and religions and this has effected my spiritual beliefs. No matter what your own faith may be, recognize that we are all connected and we are all one. You will find that there are a lot of resources for rituals and ceremonies for children – it’s okay to pick and choose the ones that you like and omit the ones you do not.
But remember, just because it is a ceremony does not mean it has to be a solemn event. Don’t be nervous and don’t take yourself too seriously. Things never go exactly according to plan. There are bound to be a few unexpected surprises (like when the baby knelt down in the middle of the ceremony and gently bit me on the ankle). The birth of a baby is a reason for celebration and joy – so relax and have fun.
Abby Rose Dalto