Irish Christening/Baptism Traditions are steeped in history and have special meaning for the family of the new baby. Baptism is the introduction of a new child into the Church community. Some traditions in Ireland call for the Christening garment to be made of White fabric or old traditions wre to have one made of pure Irish linen. Other traditions are the prayers or blessings spoken over the child on that day. Catholics believe the holy sacrament of Baptism allows the child into the life of God. The water represents the new life and new spiritual life. Most priests are willing to describe the ceremony beforehand if the parents are not sure of everything it involves. A Christening/Baptism is a special time for the parents and the service is fairly informal. The participants are guided by the priest and memorization is not needed and each person involved should feel comfortable to enjoy the service.
This is a time to welcome new life into the world. In most Christian faiths, a Baptism involves making promises to bring up the child in a Christian way of life. Another option is the Anglican service of thanksgiving and welcome. This service gives thanks for the new child’s arrival to this world and life ahead. Ceremonies of this type need not be during a church service but can be held in the church at an alternate time.
A naming ceremony is a beautiful way to celebrate the birth of a new child if the parents are not comfortable with a church setting. Sometimes these ceremonies are also called a humanistic naming ceremony or civil christening. Parents can choose any venue comfortable or with special meaning. These ceremonies can include poetry, music, and readings of any nature.
A traditional Christian ceremony includes a more formal outline of symbolic practices. The priest will trace the sign of the cross on the forehead of the child and invite the parents and godparents to do the same. The traditional symbol of Christianity is the cross and is a reminder of the love of Christ. The participants, the parents, and godparents gather around the Baptismal font with the priest. The font varies in each religion and is traditionally represented by a large bowl of water made out of stone or metal. Customarily, the mother will hold the child over the font. The parents and godparents are asked by the priest what they want for the child, and all reply, “Baptism” and then the priest invites all to make the promises of Baptism on behalf of the child. The child will be anointed with oil during the ceremony. Typically, this happens twice, once on the head and chest. With the mother or godmother still holding the child over the font, the priest pours water over the child’s head while speaking the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Hold Spirit.” Traditionally, the father of the child or godparent stands next to the child and holds the Baptismal candle. The candle is lit as a sign of new life and the light of Christ.
The equivalent of the traditional godparents can be celebrated by choosing people close to the family to make a promise to be a caring, loving, and supportive person or persons in throughout the child’s life. Families can choose to call the godparent equivalents supporters.
Traditional godparents came from the early Christian church when the adults were converts and did not come from a Christian background. The godparent’s purpose was to provide a Christian mentor to help them in living a life of faith.
Modern-day godparents are supportive adults whom the parents hope will participate in the child’s life. It is usually seen as a great honour to be chosen as a child’s godparent. Some godparents take a special role in the child’s life by always remembering birthdays. The godparent can be family or a close friend and some are equated to legal guardians should the child be orphaned.
The Christening garment can be a gown, a shawl, or any type of garment that is typically white. In todays modern christening the outfit can be white, ivory or cream. This garment can be passed down throughout the family or purchased new. The Christening shawl is traditionally white and is placed on the baby after he/she has been baptized. The white is thought to symbolize purity and innocence. Some old Irish traditions call for the garment to be made of pure Irish linen, Irish lace, or decorations of Celtic knots. Irish linen is defined as yarn that is spun in Ireland from one hundred percent pure flax fibers. Linen is the oldest fabric known to man. Linen has been discovered in the oldest Egyptian tombs unearthed and is said to have been used throughout all cultures. Linen is thought to become an important fabric in early Christian times. The Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, is said to be buried in a shroud of Irish linen. Ireland produced Irish linen through the Middle Ages. The reputation of fine Irish linen was made more known around the 17th century when the Huguenots added their expert textile skills to Ireland’s already developed industry. Irish linen in Ireland is seen as part of the lifestyle and touches many aspects of Irish life.
Christening/Baptism reception, like the ceremonies can be as formal or informal as the parents see fit. Some find it easiest to provide tea and cake, or snacks and drinks, or a buffet brunch. These are ways to continue the celebration of the day and spend time with family and friends after the Baptism. Other parents feel it appropriate to put on a formal dinner. This is usually served in courses and can be served by the parents, grandparents, or godparents of the child. Some godparents honour the child by inviting the family and friends to a restaurant or pub for dinner.
Baptism blessings can be said at the ceremony, as a prayer at the reception, or inscribed on a gift for the child. We have listed our favorites below.
A Gaelic Christening Blessing
Dearest Father in Heaven,
Bless this child and bless this day
Of new beginnings.
Smile upon this child
And surround this child, Lord,
With the soft mantle of your love.
Teach this child to follow in your footsteps,
And to live life in the ways of
Love, faith, hope and charity.
An Irish Blessing
For Your Baptism Day
May God grant you always
A sunbeam to warm you
A moonbeam to charm you
A sheltering angel so nothing can harm you
Laughter to cheer you
Faithful friends near you
And whenever you pray
Heaven to hear you.
An Irish Blessing
For Your Baptism Day
May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields and,
until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Mol an ige agus tiocfaidh s.
Gaelic to English: Praise the young and they will blossom.
Tradition of christening Gown
The Irish believe that for daughters, the christening gown should be one of the three white dresses that she will wear in her lifetime; her christening/baptism gown, communion gown, and her wedding gown. Traditionally it was custom for all these to be white as this symbolizes, purity, joy and new life.
An old Irish custom is to make the christening gown from the mothers bridal gown; using lace or fabric from the veil, or other parts of the wedding gown. This was traditionally made by the mother.
A mothers first-born child is said to wear part of the bridal gown for her christening, and then when the child marries, part of the christening gown will be re sewn back into the bridal gown!
All of this represents the threads binding together the different generations.
This tradition of course comes with its variations, one of which is that the mother makes her child’s christening gown from her own bridal dress, and this then gets handed down through the generations as a family heirloom, rather than being recast into the wedding dress.
Many Irish christening gowns are hand embroidered with symbols. They could have panels made from the old Cluney lace (lace that is so delicate and airy, it resembles crochet stitches) Or it could be made from fine Irish silk or old Irish linen. The beauty of the Irish gown is partly the tradition that lies behind it.
Irish tradition, like any other, comes with its own variations. The blessing about tradition of any form, is that it can be adapted to suit your own needs or you can simply start your own tradition.
What Are godparents
The Godparents are generally composed of both a female and male member, not necessarily from the same couple. However only one Godparent is actually necessary and sometimes people may have three godparents. One of the Godparents often needs to be a practicing member of the faith into which the child is being baptized and they must be sufficiently well-connected to the family of the child to be able to exercise the responsibilities they undertake in the service. When an infant is baptized he/she can’t answer the questions for him/herself, so someone needs to answer on his/her behalf.
Godparents may be asked to perform ritual functions during the ceremony, such as holding the child, praying over the child and to make promises for the child’s religious growth. After the ceremony, the role of the Godparents is to look after the child’s religious path.
Godparents (also called sponsors or proxies) were originally introduced into the baptism service for this reason. In the history of the church godparents also promised to bring the child up in the Christian faith, and took responsibility for this.
At infant baptism, parents may be Godparents to their own children, and the parents of the child are required to make these statements together with the Godparents. The role of Godparent has become that of a “supporting friend” who assists the parents and takes a special interest in the child, but does not stand in for the parents or make up for any lacks in their care. Your chief responsibility is to support your godchild in living a Christian life in fellowship with the Church. You are promising to do all in your power to support him/her in his/her life in Christ.” The best way to do this is to help make sure he/she gets to Church regularly. Setting an example by regular Church attendance and by being willing to take your godchild with you to worship is a great witness and a fine way to keep your oath as a Sponsor.
In the case of a Thanksgiving and Blessing service, the Godparents promise support of the parents in bringing up the child as well as support of the child.
Are Godparents also commissioned as guardians? No. The church has no power to appoint guardians. Parents wishing to appoint guardians in the event of their deaths should specify this in their wills.
Christian Responsibilities of a Godparen.
1. Pray for your godchild regularly
2. Set an example of Christian living
3. Help him/her to grow in the faith of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
4. Give every encouragement to follow Christ and fight against evil.
Questions to ask yourself before agreeing to be a Godparent.
- Are your views on religion, spirituality and morality similar to the child’s parents?
If they are, all well and good. If not, this need not be an obstacle: the parents may have chosen you because your views are different. But make sure the parents know your views and are happy with them before you decide to accept. There is a surprising number of fantastic Godparents out there who are non-Christian but still bring up their Godchildren within the spirit of the Christian values.
- Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?
Being a Godparent involves developing a relationship with the child and helping the parents in his/her spiritual upbringing. There are many different ways of carrying out your duties as Godparent, but one of the most important things to do is to build a relationship with your Godchild. Make time to see your godchild as regularly as you can. Try to give him or her one-to-one attention: find out what makes them tick, what makes them happy or sad. Spending time with your godchild can be very rewarding (for you both).
- Do you have an interest in the child’s well-being?
If you really cannot tolerate children maybe you should say so now rather than agreeing and then disappointing later. But bear in mind that many Godparents find they only really begin to establish a relationship with their Godchild when he/she reaches teenage or beyond.
Irish Baby Naming Traditions
This is intended to be just a general guideline. There may be many differences, depending upon the Irish community. It may also be useful for those tracing their Irish family genealogy as the same names seem to crop up frequently within families:
- Oldest son named after the Father’s father
- 2nd son named after the Mother’s father
- 3rd son named after the Father
- 4th son named after the Father’s oldest brother
- Oldest daughter named after the Mother’s mother
- 2nd daughter named after the Father’s mother
- 3rd daughter named after the Mother
- 4th daughter named after the Mother’s oldest sister