A birth, especially a first birth, can be a bewildering experience for a new mother and father. Beliefs and rituals surrounding this important rite of passage vary from culture to culture. Many families, once their newborn arrived, they can’t wait to get out of the hospital and bring their little one home.
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1 Aqiqah (Pakistan)
Aqiqah is a traditional Islamic ceremony practiced in many parts of the world which usually consists of giving a name to the baby, shaving its hair, and slaughtering an animal such as a goat or sheep whose meat can be distributed to the poor. The baby’s hair is shaved so it will grow back thicker, and its weight in silver is donated to charity. The purpose of Aqiqah is to celebrate the child’s life with friends and family – and through donation, to celebrate the lives of others.
2 Sebou (Egypt)
In a ritual that dates back to times of Pharaohs, Sebou is an ancient tradition of welcoming the baby and preparing it for the world. Sebou means “The Seventh” as the number 7 is considered lucky. 7 days after birth, the baby is bathed, dressed in new clothes, and is taken on a tour of the family home accompanied by relatives carrying candles. The mother will step over the baby seven times while the women of the family make loud noises, which is meant to build the baby’s character.
3 Baby Jumping Festival (Spain)
That’s right. Baby jumping. The Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia really steps on the gas when it comes to baptismal celebrations. They traded the traditional baptism ritual of gently pouring holy water on the baby’s head with El Colacho – a 400-year-old festival where a man dressed as Satan jumps over the babies to absolve them from sin. From the looks of it, the parents are way more freaked out by it than the babies!
4 Red Dyed Eggs (China)
After the vulnerable 1st month, the Chinese hold a party to celebrate the baby's good health, serving dyed red eggs and pickled red ginger. The eggs represent a new start in Chinese culture while the color red means prosperity and good fortune, making these a vibrant token for friends and family.
5 Smoking Ceremony (Indigenous Australians)
For the Indigenous peoples of Australia, rituals and rites of passage are fundamental to their culture. To celebrate the birth of a child, the community burns various plants to ward off unwanted omens and will place the baby in a pit full of the smoke for a few seconds to build their strength.
6 Babies' Feet Cannot Touch the Ground Since they are Considered Divinities from Heaven (Bali)
While some parents around the world don't feel safe leaving their babies playing on the floor as a method of preserving the child's health, Balinese babies' feet cannot touch the ground until their 210th day of life–due to the fact that a baby is considered a divine being which descended from heaven. When the child's feet touch the ground for the first time, it symbolizes their crossing over to become fully human.
7 Place a Baby on the Floor Surrounded by Symbolic Items in Order to Know His/Her Future (Armenia)
When a baby get his first tooth, Armenian parents celebrate with a ceremony called Agra Hadig. They place the baby on the floor surrounded by symbolic items, such as a tape measure, a stethoscope, a spatula, a book and other objects. Parents then encourage the baby to choose one of the articles.
Whatever item the child picks up and plays with would symbolize his/her future. For example, if a boy chooses a tape measure, then it means that he'll be an architect or an engineer. Of course, only time will tell.
8 Every baby Gets a "Maternity Package" from the Government (Finland)
For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's a starter kit of clothes, sheets, and toys that can even be used as a bed.
Mothers have a choice between taking the box or a cash grant, which is currently set at 140 euros (US$190), but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.
9 Packaging the Umbilical Cord Inside a Wooden Box (Japan)
When a baby has that first haircut, most parents keep a lock of hair, while others keep a baby's first shoe. Japanese mothers typically cherish the umbilical cord.
Hospitals in Japan package the cords inside wooden boxes and present them to mothers upon their departure from the hospital. Inside the box, there is sometimes a small doll representing a sleeping baby wearing a kimono. The kimono can be unfolded and the umbilical cord placed inside. It is believed that preserving the umbilical cord in this way ensures a positive relationship between the child and the mother.
One week after the child is born, the new parents and close relatives will hold a baby naming ceremony, the Oshichiya , in which the child receives his/her official name in front of the Butsudan(home Buddhist altar).
10 Nishkarmana (India)
There are a number of traditions that are carried out in Hinduism, before and after a baby’s born.
Firstly, when the baby’s born, a tradition known as Jatakarma is performed. This involves putting a drop of honey on the baby’s tongue whilst whispering a prayer in his/her ear – essentially carried out to welcome the baby into the world, into a loving family and religion.
Namakarna – the naming ceremony – then follows, and then it’s Nishkarmana – the baby’s first trip out – which often occurs when the baby’s brought home for the first time or visits the temple.
On this day, an area of the courtyard – an area that’s directly in the sunlight – is smeared with cow dung (cows are holy in Hinduism) clay and is scattered with rice before being marked with religious symbols. The conch shell is then sounded and prayers are chanted as the baby looks up into the sky.
11 Shove Money in the Baby's Hands (Trinidad and Tobago)
Again, this a custom of many countries when people come to the family’s home to visit the baby.
Money is a symbol of a lot of things; wealth, prosperity, success, and by shoving money in the baby’s hand, those in the two island country of Trinidad and Tobago hope to get babies accustomed to the feel of money – what it brings and what it means – early on in life. That’s what they do – friends and family – when they come to the house for the first time, they put a few notes into the baby’s hand. In addition to getting the babies used to money, it’s also done in the hope that what money means – what money symbolizes – will rub off on the baby; i.e. give the baby success, prosperity and just blessings of fortune.
Incidentally, if people are coming to the house to visit the baby and give him/her money, they’ll only be able to enter the house after 6 pm, because many families believe that the dew that forms in the evening isn’t great for the baby – of course not every family in the country abides by this.
12 Bury the Umbilical Cord (Japan)
We’ve mentioned the Japanese custom of putting the umbilical cord into a wooden box, but the Japanese aren’t the only people who do something with the umbilical cord. Whilst some may think that holding on to the umbilical cord is gross and icky, others take it to be special and believe it will bring good luck and prosperity.
In Jamaica, mothers hold on to the umbilical cord, and when they return home with their baby, they bury the cord – in a special location which could be the garden or some other place of significance. This is meant to be a life lesson for the baby, teach it responsibility – not the burying of the cord as such, but what occurs after it. At the location where the cord’s been buried, a tree’s then planted. The family and the baby – when he/she’s older – is meant to take care of this tree; it’s a living thing, a new life and must be looked after.
13 The Naming Ceremony (China)
This commonly occurs when the baby’s been brought home, a few days after he/she’s been born. Many religions and cultures have naming ceremonies and each one is a momentous event – as it the case in Buddhism.
Buddhists choose names based on the meanings and how it sounds, but it’s not the parents who choose the name. Buddhist monks are invited to the family home, are fed and watered, and then the prayers begin. The monks recite prayers in front of the baby, and then the senior monk will give the baby a name of his choosing. The dad could also request that another male figure – someone he’s fond of – give the baby a name, and then that’s that – it’s time to feast! The point of this whole ceremony is of course to name the baby, but it’s also carried out to ward off evil spirits, get rid of any demons and give the baby the best possible chance of living a long, healthy and prosperous life.
14 Shaving Head (Hindus and Muslims)
In Muslim and Hindu traditions, a baby’s head is typically shaved within several days or in the first three years after birth. In Islam, it is done to show that the child is a servant of Allah. In Hinduism, the ceremony, called a mundan, is believed to rid the baby of negativity from their past life and cleanse the child’s body and soul. Some Hindus in India take the baby’s hair to scatter in the holy river Ganges, while some Muslims weigh it and donate the equivalent weight in silver to charity.
The tradition of inviting adult members of the family or community to serve as godparents for a child is found in several religious and cultural traditions around the world, but most prominently in Catholicism. The chosen godparent typically holds the baby during their baptism ceremony.
16 First Words (Muslims)
Muslims believe that the Adhan, or call to prayer (“God is great, there is no God but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Come to prayer.”) should be the first words a baby hears. The prayer is typically whispered into the right ear of the child by his or her father.
17 Something Sweet (Muslims and Hindus)
Many Hindu and Muslim communities believe that an infant’s first taste should be something sweet “so that the baby speaks sweetly,” as one Bangladeshi patient told researchers. In Islam, this is done by rubbing either a softened date or a bit of honey into the baby’s upper palate. Hindus typically use honey exclusively for the ritual, called Jatakarma.