The birth of a baby is celebrated with great gusto across many communities worldwide and over the years, each community has created their own traditions to welcome the newborns into the world. Most cultures have some kind of ritual to protect the newborn from the ‘evil eye’ or practice some form of religious initiation which quite often proves to be decidedly shocking in the eyes of another culture. Here are some popular, yet often bizarre, rituals related to newborns from around the world.
10. Spitting in the Newborn’s Face
Mauritania’s Wolof tribe has a pretty strange belief. According to them, human saliva has powerful healing powers! Spitting in a baby’s face is considered to be a way of blessing him or her. Mothers spit in their faces while fathers spit in their ears. Then the saliva is rubbed all over the baby’s face and head. This ritual is carried out to ward away the evil eye as well as ensure good influence over the newborn’s life. It might appear absurd to us but the Wolof people have great faith in this tradition!
9. Treasuring the Umbilical Cord
In many cultures, the umbilical cord is not just a physical link between the mother and the child. It is a spiritual connection that needs to be cherished. Hence, the Japanese preserve the umbilical cord after birth to ensure the well being of the baby and a close and lasting relationship between the mother and the newborn. In Japanese hospitals, it is common practice to present the mother with the cord, kept in a small wooden box, at the time of her departure. This becomes a part of family memorabilia and is preserved and treasured carefully.
8. Gifting Eggs Dyed Red
In China, a newborn’s first big life event happens on the 30th day after his or her birth. Kind of life is ‘Welcome to the Family!’ party, this event is basically a gathering of the parents’ closest friends and family members who bring gifts for the newborn and coo over the adorable tiny-tot. The parents, in turn, present the guests with red-dyed eggs. Eggs are symbolic of the changing process of life and their round shape represents a happy and harmonious life. Red is also associated with happiness in China and so the relatives give the baby money in bright red envelopes as well.
7. The World is a Sieve
The Egyptians have a peculiar tradition to make newborns acquainted with the numerous ups and downs of life. On the seventh day after birth, they hold a ceremony where the mother places her baby in a large sieve and gently shakes it, often eliciting wails from the newborn. To protect the baby from evil, he or she is placed on a blanket on the floor while the mother side-steps their body seven times and the guests murmur incantations. The baby is also showered with gifts and gold as a blessing for abundance in his or her life.
6. 20 Names
Don’t be surprised if a newborn is known by twenty or more different names by separate family members in a Nigerian household. On the naming ceremony of the newborn, he or she is given a separate name by each of their relatives, most often accompanied with a gift of money. Apart from these, they are also given a family name as well as a name that hints towards a specific circumstance surrounding their birth. This ceremony is held on the seventh day after birth in the case of a baby girl, and on the ninth day in the case of a baby boy.
5. Braving the cold
Parents in Sweden frequently leave their children outside in the cold. While that may sound negligence, it is actually a pretty old practice in both Sweden and Sweden. Continuous exposure to cold air is believed to make babies stronger and better accustomed to the cold. Even the Danish National Board of Health encourages this practice! Perhaps it is a good idea to be used to freezing temperatures right from infancy when you live in places with such cold climates but to people in tropical countries, it sure does sound cruel and even heartless.
4. Feet on ground
Many cultures believe babies to be a reflection of God Himself. Their innocence and purity is considered holy. So it goes that the people of Bali consider babies to be divine being who have ascended straight from heaven itself. Thus, it is considered inauspicious to let their unblemished feet touch the ground in the first three months after their birth. Family members must carry around the baby at all times until the 105th day after birth. The moment the newborn’s feet touch the ground, it is considered that he or she has crossed over from the divine plane and become fully human.
3. Head shaving
In many Asian cultures, the first shaving of a baby’s head is performed as grand and formal ceremony. It has several religious connotations as well. In Hinduism, where reincarnation is a widely held belief, the ceremony is called a mundan and is considered to rid the baby of the negativity of his or her past life. At the same time, it also cleanses the soul and the body. The shaved hair is often scattered in the Ganges. In the Muslim tradition, head shaving reaffirms the faith that the newborn is a servant of Allah.
The official christening ceremony in Christian traditions, baptism, is carried out differently in different traditions. The oldest form of this practice involved total immersion of the newborn in basin full of water. Baptism may also be done by pouring water over the baby’s head or simply sprinkling a few drops on his or her forehead. This is accompanied by the Christian recitation of “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Performed by a priest, this act is seen as a process of purification, riding the body of ‘original sin’ and also as a recognition of the infant’s official admission into the Church. The child is named after this ritual.
Male circumcision is a widespread practice across Jewish, Islamic and Christian cultures across the world. It is a ceremony in the form of a surgical operation involving the removal of the foreskin from the penis of an 8-day old baby. Despite the fact that it has caused quite a few debates around the world over the pain experienced during the procedure, it continues to be a carried out by various cultures due to its strong religious basis. For instance, circumcision is related as nothing less than an indisputable command from God to Abraham. Like most other similar cases, here too, religious beliefs manage to trump questions of morality and human rights.