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Christenings – Gifts, Etiquette And History Explained

Whether you're planning a Christening yourself, attending a Christening or just want to find out a bit more about the options available to you then hopefully this section of the website will help.

There are two types of ceremonies available; 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.

Religious Ceremonies:

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 child, without hymns and lasts approximately 30 minutes.

In a Church of England Christening, the Christening takes place within the main Sunday church service and the baby is taken to the font, sprinkled with holy water, and the Godparents and parents promise God they will bring the child up in the Christian faith.

If you decide to go for a Christening, you need to speak to the vicar at your local church. They will explain the service, and may ask questions concerning your own faith, and that of the godparents. You will then be able to book a date.

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. A British Humanist Association ceremony can take place anywhere you like. A trained, licensed celebrant will help you to create a unique and personal occasion. They can provide templates for ceremonies that you can adapt for your own situation, and they can suggest readings, poetry or music. You can include contributions from family/friends, and finish it all off with a tea or 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. Of course there can also be photographs before and after.

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 though if you are the father or Godfather, you would be expected to dress in a suit.

Usually following the ceremony a buffet or tea is held at the parent’s house. 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. Generally Godparents are chosen for their own Christian beliefs but also because they are very close friends of the parents, or family members. Godparents or guardians should be people who are going to be around to offer support for the child if needed.

Christening Gifts:

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. Personalised gifts also make very nice ideas for this occasion, for example a framed name print, or a personalised Christening plate or mug, or perhaps an engraved tankard or cufflinks for a boy.

Submitted by:

James T Wilson





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