A birth, especially a first birth, can be a bewildering experience for a new mother and father. While most of us expect parenting to be intuitive, we quickly find out that a lot of it comes from practice and experience, making it all the more important for communities to play a significant role in the welcoming of a new life. Rituals around birth help welcome children into their new communities and are some of the most varied and special traditions, representing a culture’s views on the circle of life. Here are some of our favorite, fascinating newborn ceremonies and rituals from around the world.
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 newborn’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!
The Irish have a tradition of preserving the top layer of their wedding cake until their baby is born. The cake is then sprinkled onto the baby’s head, symbolizing the circle of life. What a delicious way to celebrate a new arrival!
In parts of Asia and Latin America, it is common for the mother to take several weeks to relax after giving birth. In South Korea, new mothers will not do anything for 21 days after giving birth, and eat loads of miyeokguk – a Korean seaweed soup – which has incredible health benefits. As the legend goes, the tradition began when people started to see whales eating seaweed after giving birth!
In Japan, a similar process is called Ansei: the Japanese believe that childbearing is a deeply human experience, and as such, the experience does not end when the baby enters the world. So, mothers also spend 21 days in relaxation, with her only responsibility of course to take care of her baby. It’s customary for her to stay with her parents, and other family members will do all her chores.
In many countries across Latin America, women opt to enter La Cuarentena – or “quarantine”. For six weeks, new mothers abstain from sex, certain foods, and all strenuous activity. Like in Japan and South Korea, the time spent in la Cuarentena is dedicated solely to taking care of the baby while others prepare special meals, such as vegetable soups full of natural vitamins, to aid her recovery.
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.
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After the vulnerable 1st month newborn period, 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 colour red means prosperity and good fortune, making these a vibrant token for friends and family.
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. Hania Sholkamy, an anthropologist at the American University in Cairo, says "the ritual itself is all about advising the newborn about warding off evil spirits, about strengthening it, about giving it, you know, guts and a will to live."
For the Indigenous peoples of Australia, rituals and rites of passage are fundamental to their culture. To celebrate the birth of a newborn 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.
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