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Christening is a form of baptism that is practiced by many Christian denominations. In general, this rite is considered to either be a sacrament or ordinance that welcomes a newborn into the Christian community and formally bestows a Christian name on the child. Most denominations that practice this type of infant baptism require that the rite be performed under the direction of an ordained member of the clergy, although some traditions allow lay members to conduct the ceremony.
The significance of christening varies in different Christian traditions. Many consider baby christening to be a means of establishing a covenant between the family and the local faith community to provide a safe environment of care and nurturing for the child as he or she grows up. As part of that covenant, the community promises to support the parents in rearing the child using Christian principles, as well as teaching the child the basics of Christian belief and practice as understood by that particular faith community. In a sense, the christening helps to establish an extended family for the newborn, creating a strong support network that is intended to provide security throughout life.
In some traditions, christening is also seen as the means of affirming the Christian name of the newborn. While infants routinely are provided with a legal name shortly after birth, the symbolism of a Christian name helps to affirm the recognition of the faith community of that name.
Another common aspect of baptism christening has to do with initiating a membership process for the child that will culminate in the rite of confirmation. The infant baptism connects the child to the community, creates the basis for teaching the child about Christianity and lays the foundation for full membership once the child is old enough to willingly choose to join the community. This aspect was once tied to the idea of ensuring the salvation of the child’s soul if he or she should die before receiving confirmation, but this concept has been either downplayed or eliminated altogether from the faith systems of many Christian communities.
Not all Christian traditions practice christening. Faith traditions that do not allow baptism until a child has reached what is commonly known as an “age of reason” or “age of accountability” often do have a ceremony that formally welcomes the child into the community. Sometimes referred to as dedication ceremonies or baby blessings, these similar rites also serve to establish a support network to nurture the newborn in the faith.
Over the centuries, specific liturgies and traditions for celebrating the rite has emerged. In addition, a wide range of christening gowns, gifts and other memorabilia have also come into common usage. Many stores that cater to a Christian clientele will carry a full line of resources for use with this type of infant baptism, with the prices ranging from the very affordable to extremely expensive.
Some faiths don't even wait until "the age of reason" is reached. It is not uncommon to see children in faiths that don't practice Christening still allow children in elementary school to get baptized. That can be confusing as the "age of reason" is generally considered to be 13 years old -- the very reason Methodists (and other faiths) want children to be confirmed after they reach that age.
Some will argue that allowing children to be baptized or confirmed prior to the time they reach that age of 13 is somewhat ineffective, while others will defend that practice. What fun would denominations be if people didn't squabble over such details?