Baptism - A Childbirth Ritual
Baptism is a Christian practice signifying the washing away of sins. (Sins are considered a deliberate disobedience to the known will of God that every human does whether or not he or she realizes it.) It's a church tradition but is not exclusively a Catholic church tradition. The Catholic church considered baptism a sacrament and so do most other churches. (A sacrament is considered to be a sign that an individual is a Christian and believes that God will provide for him or her.) Some churches believe that baptism actually washes away all sins while others believe that it's a sign of a washing away of sins for those who believe and try to live a moral life as defined by God.
The procedure can involve either a sprinkling of water or a complete immersion in water. In the modern world, baptism can be done on newborns or adults. Historically baptism was done on only children and the birth of the child was also recorded by the church at the time of baptism. Today infant baptism is sometimes also referred to as christening and can often be a big social event where baptism invitations are sent out and the baby is dressed in special baptism clothes. It's also common for the parents to receive baptism gifts at a baby's christening.
History of Baptism
Baptism has been around since the beginning of Christianity, but infant baptism wasn't regularly practiced until the middle ages when more of an emphasis was placed on being born sinful. In the 12th century, Catholic baptism became a symbolic rite in the church and was considered one of seven sacraments. Complete immersion in water was common in early churches of the middle ages. It is still used in many churches today although it's more common for babies to only be sprinkled with water from a baptismal font.
A point in Christian history called the Reformation resulted in some churches breaking away from the Catholic church. These churches saw baptism more as a sign of a washing away of sins instead of an actual washing away of sins. Infant baptism was still practiced, although later divisions in Christian churches resulted in the birth of a group opposed to the baptism of babies on the grounds that they didn't ask for it or even know what was going on. Their argument was that someone cannot be baptized until they know that they did and thought bad or evil things.
In the Middle Ages and earlier, baptism was usually performed with the candidate completely. Historians suggest that the reason for this was that the lack of clothes represented a person putting off the old bad self and being born a new person. Changing customs and a greater concern with privacy and modesty allowed the candidate to keep on their undergarments. Today adult baptism candidates can wear baptismal robes or quick-drying clothes that won't become see-through when wet.
Babies often wear christening robes which are fancy long white dresses with lace and sometimes crinoline. Both boy and girl babies can wear christening robes. Sometimes ribbons are changed to blue for a boy and pink for a girl. There are also christening suits available for baby boys.
Why Do Babies Get Baptized?
Parents get their babies baptized for religious reasons and as a sign of their faith. Non-Christians do not practice baptism although some Jews practice a ritual called tellivah which has been compared by some to the Christian baptism.
Other parents choose to get their babies baptized out of tradition or even superstition. If the reasons are superstitious, they might believe that the only way to protect their babies from all sorts of evil forces is through this childbirth ritual. If the reason is for tradition, parents might choose to christen their children simply because that is the way things have been done for generations in their families.