babies


babies
   Certain circumstances at birth were thought to foretell the baby's future character or *luck, e.g. a rhyme about *days of the week, best known in the version:
   Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for a living, But the child that is born on the Sabbath day Is blithe and bonny, good and gay.
   A breech birth indicated a trouble-maker ('awkward born, awkward all their lives'); *teeth already visible, a cruel nature; hands open, generosity; a *caul, immunity from drowning. Those born at *midnight on a *Fri-day, or at the *chime hours, would be able to see *ghosts; those born on a Sunday, or on *Christmas Day, would never be drowned or hanged. Some midwives said the first food to pass the baby's lips should be a spoonful of butter and sugar, to give 'a sweet nature'.
   One widespread rule was that the baby's first move should be upwards, so that it 'rises' in life; if possible, this was done by carrying it to a higher storey or an attic, but if there was none, then the midwife should climb on to a stool with the baby in her arms. She should also wrap it in some old shirt or petticoat before putting its proper clothes on, to avert bad luck. In Cumberland, the baby's head was washed with rum for luck, and in Suffolk with gin; everywhere it was (and is) usual to drink its health, which is called 'wetting the baby's head'. In earlier times, *salt, *iron, or *rowan twigs might be put in the cradle as protection against witches and fairies.
   In some areas, it was thought wrong to take a baby out of the house before the day of its *baptism. Writers from the late 18th century onwards say that in northern counties when a baby is first taken to visit some relative or neighbour, the latter should present it with 'a cake of bread, an egg, and a small quantity of salt'; if this is not done the baby will grow up poor, but if it is, he/she will be rich and lucky (Hone, 1827: ii, cols. 21-2). Matches, representing light, were sometimes given as well. The corresponding modern custom, now very widespread, also applies to people visiting the house where the new baby lives, and to those meeting it for the first time in the street; the essential gift is now a *silver coin.
   Until the baby was a year old, two further rules were common: do not cut the finger- or toenails with *scissors, but bite them off instead, or he/she will grow up a thief; do not allow him/her to look into a *mirror, or he/she will become conceited.
   See also *baptism, *cauls, *childbirth, *pregnancy.
   ■ Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 95-7, 118-19; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 10-13, 274-5.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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