A CHILD can, of course, be christened without making a festivity of it at alljust as two people can be married with none but the clergyman and two witnessesbut nearly every mother takes this occasion to see her friends and show her baby to them.
Invitations to a christening are never formal, because none but the family and a very few intimate friends are supposed to be asked. In this day invitations are nearly all sent over the telephone, except to those who are at a distance, or else friends are asked verbally when seen; but it is both correct and polite to write notes. Such as:
Dear Mrs. Kindhart:
The baby is to be christened here at home, next Sunday at half past four, and we hope you and Mr. Kindhartand the children if they care towill come.
If a godfather (or mother) after having given his consent is abroad or otherwise out of reach at the time of the christening, a proxy takes part in the ceremony instead, and without thereby becoming a godfather. Since godparents are always most intimate friends, it is natural to ask them when they come to see the mother and the baby (which they probably do often) or to write them if at a distance. Sometimes they are asked at the same time that the babys arrival is announced to them, occasionally even before.
But in any case a formally worded request is out of place. Do not write:
My husband and I sincerely hope that you will consent to be our sons godmother, etc. Any one so slightly known as this wording implies would not be asked to fill so close a position as that of godmother without great presumption on your part.
You must never ask any one to be a godmother or godfather whom you do not know intimately well, as it is a responsibility not lightly to be undertaken and impossible to refuse. Godparents should, however, be chosen from among friends rather than relatives, since the sole advantage of godparents is that they add to the childs relatives, so that if it should be left alone in the world, its godparents become its protectors. But where a child is born with plenty of relatives who can be called upon for advice and affection and assistance in event of his or her becoming an orphan, godparents are often chosen from among them. Nothing could be more senseless, however, than choosing grandparents, since the relationship is as close as can be anyway, and the chances that the parents will outlive their own parents make such a choice still more unsuitable.
In France, the godmother is considered, next to the parents and grandparents, the nearest relative a child can have. In some European countries, the Queen or another who is above the parents in rank, assumes a special protectorate over her godchild. In this instance the godmother appoints herself.
In America a similar situation cannot very well exist; though on rare occasions an employer volunteers to stand as godfather for an employees child. Godparents must, of course, give the baby a present, if not before, at least at the christening. The standard gift is a silver mug, a porringer, or a knife, fork and spoon, marked usually with the babys name and that of the giver.
In other days of stricter observances a baby was baptized in the Catholic and high Episcopal church on the first or at least second Sunday after its birth. But to-day the christening is usually delayed at least until the young mother is up and about again; often it is put off for months and in some denominations children need not be christened until they are several years old. The most usual age is from two to six months.
If the family is very high church or the baby is delicate and its christening therefore takes place when it is only a week or two old, the mother is carried into the drawing-room and put on a sofa near the improvised font. She is dressed in a becoming negligé and perhaps a cap, and with lace pillows behind her and a cover equally decorative over her feet. The guests in this event are only the family and the fewest possible intimate friends.
In arranging for the ceremony the clergyman, of course, is consulted and the place and hour arranged. If it is to be in church, it can take place at the close of the regular service on Sunday, but if a good deal is to be made of the christening, a week day is chosen and an hour when the church is not being otherwise used.
The decorations, if any at all, consist of a few palms or some flowering plants grouped around the font, and the guests invited for the christening take places in the pews which are nearest to the font, wherever that happens to be.
As soon as the clergyman appears, the babys coat and cap are taken off (in any convenient pew, not necessarily the nearest one), and the godmother, holding the baby in her arms, stands directly in front of the clergyman. The other godparents stand beside her and other relatives and friends nearby.
The godmother who is holding the baby must be sure to pronounce its name distinctlyin fact it is a wise precaution if it is a long or an unusual one, to show the name printed on a slip of paper to the clergyman beforehandas more than one baby has been given a name not intended for it. And whatever name the clergyman pronounces is fixed for life. The little Town girl who was to have been called Marian is actually Mary Ann!
As soon as the ceremony is over, the godmother hands the baby back to its nurse, who puts on its cap and coat, and it is then driven with all its relatives and friends to the house of its parents or grandparents, where a lunch or an afternoon tea has been arranged.
Unless forbidden by the church to which the babys parents belong, the house christening is by far the easier, safer and prettier. Easier, because the baby does not have to have wraps put on and off and be taken out and brought in; safer, because it is not apt to catch cold; and prettier, for a dozen reasons.
The baby in the first place looks much prettier in a dress that has not been crushed by having a coat put over it and taken off and put on and off again. In the second place, a baby brought down from the nursery without any fussing is generally good, whereas one that has been dressed and undressed and taken hither and yon is apt to be upset and therefore to cry. If it cries in church it just has to cry! In a house it can be taken into another room and be brought back again after it has been made more comfortable. It is trying to a young mother who is proud of her babys looks, to go to no end of trouble to get exquisite clothes for it, and ask all her friends in, and then have it look exactly like a tragedy mask carved in a beet! And you can scarcely expect a self-respecting baby who is hauled and mauled and taken to a strange place and handed to a strange person who pours cold water on itnot to protest. And alas! it has only one means.
The arrangements made for a house christening are something like those made for a house weddingonly much simpler. The drawing-room or wherever the ceremony is to be performed is often decorated with pots of pale pink roses, or daisies, or branches of dogwood or white lilacs. Nothing is prettier than the blossoms of fruit trees (if they can be persuaded to keep their petals on) or any other spring flowers. In summer there are all the garden flowers. In autumn, cosmos and white chrysanthemums, or at any season, babys breath and roses.
The font is always a bowlof silver usuallyput on a small high table. A white napkin on the table inevitably suggests a restaurant rather than a ritual and is therefore unfortunate, and most people of taste prefer to have the table covered with old church brocade and an arrangement of flowers either standing behind or laid upon it so that the stems are toward the center and covered by the base of the bowl.
At the hour set for the ceremony, the clergyman enters the room first and takes his place at the font. The guests naturally make way, forming an open aisle. If not, the babys father or another member of the family clears an aisle. The godmother carries the baby and follows the clergyman; the other two godparents walk behind her, and all three stand near the font. At the proper moment the clergyman takes the baby, baptizes it and hands it back to the godmother, who holds it until the ceremony is over.
The christening dress is always especially elaborate and beautiful. Often it is one that was worn by the babys mother, father, or even its grand or great-grandparent. Baby clothes should be as sheer as possible and as soft. The ideal dress is of mull with much or little valenciennes lace (real) and finest hand embroidery. But however much or little its trimming, it must be exquisite in texture. In fact, everything for a baby ought to be hand-made. It can be as plain as a charity garment, but of fine material and tiny hand stitches. If the baby is very little, it is usually laid on a lace trimmed pillow. (This lace, too, must be valenciennes.)
The godmother or godmothers should wear the sort of clothes that they would wear at an afternoon tea. The godfather or fathers should wear formal afternoon clothes. The other guests wear ordinary afternoon clothes and the motherunless on the sofawears a light-colored afternoon dress. She should not wear black on this occasion.
As soon as the ceremony is performed, the clergyman goes to the room that was set apart for him, changes into his ordinary clothes and then returns to the drawing-room to be one of the guests at luncheon or tea. The godmother hands the baby to the nurse, or maybe to its mother, and everyone gathers around to admire it. And the party becomes exactly like every informal afternoon tea.
The only difference between an ordinary informal tea and a christening is that a feature of the latter is a christening cake and caudle. The christening cake is generally a white lady cake elaborately iced, sometimes with the babys initials, and garlands of pink sugar roses. And although according to cook-books caudle is a gruel, the actual caudle invariably served at christenings is a hot eggnog, drunk out of little punch cups. One is supposed to eat the cake as a sign that one partakes of the babys hospitality, and is therefore its friend, and to drink the caudle to its health and prosperity. But by this time the young host (or hostess) is peacefully asleep in the nursery.