baptism


baptism
   Also called christening, this is for most denominations an essential act; many theologians taught that infants dying *unbaptized could never enter Heaven - a doctrine reflected in the unwillingness to give them proper burial. In popular belief it was also assumed that unbaptized babies were in danger from demons, witches, and fairies. At the same time, christening was (and is) a ceremony asserting the baby's membership of a family and social group; the choice of godparents, for instance, often has more to do with social bonding than religious upbringing. Name-giving, accompanied by presents and celebration, ratifies the child's status; the need for such a ritual is so strongly felt that some now wish to devise an official but non-religious ceremony as its civic equivalent.
   An interesting custom in working-class areas of Newcastle and Durham was for parents taking a baby to baptism to have with them a paper bag containing a cheese sandwich and a slice of cake, and a *silver coin, and sometimes a *candle and *salt; this had to be given to the first person of the sex opposite to the baby's whom the christening party saw on their way to church, or at the church gate after the ceremony. This was still being done in the 1970s (FLS News 11 (1990), 4-7; 12 (1991), 1013).
   In folk tradition, various *taboos and beliefs surrounded baptism. The chosen name must not be used in advance, nor should the baby go out of the house until taken to the church for the ceremony, for it was in danger itself and a possible source of bad luck to others; if the mother's *churching had not yet taken place, she could not attend the christening. The baby should cry when sprinkled with the baptismal water, to show the Devil has been driven out; some said a silent baby would not live long. If several were to be baptized at once, boys must precede girls; in northern counties, it was said that if this rule was broken the boy would never grow a beard, but the girl would (Henderson, 1866: 9). It was widely held that fretful or sickly babies, especially those suffering from fits, would improve in health once baptized.
   See also *names, *unbaptized babies.
   ■ Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 27-30, 172; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 72-4.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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