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Pregnant WomanBaby Shower in France

By Helenely
Lyon, France

Last Friday my best friend Cécile and I had a glass of Champaign in her office to celebrate her pregnancy. And yet, she does not want to organize a party at home before the baby’s birthday. In France, people celebrate bridal shower (enterrement de vie de jeune-fille) but not baby shower, so it has no French equivalent.

When I suggested we could have a party with some friends and other colleagues, Cécile stood back with a puzzled look on her face:  « you’re kidding! »

Cécile’ s reaction illustrates the popular belief regarding the birth of children (la naissance) in France. It is believed that people should wait for the baby’s first birthday to celebrate the event and give gifts to the mother and her baby.

French women’s magazines Famili, Infobébés, Enfant Magazine and web sites, Le Guide des Nouvelles Mamans give much advice about pregnancy, early childhood and tips for baby games or healthy eating habits. Of course, Cécile has already subscribed to all available pregnancy magazines. She buys at least 10% of the baby wear department every time she goes to Vertbaudet and the Petit Bateau stores for babies and kids.

French baby shower
Baby clothing: qui est le plus grand des gourmands? C'est Armand l'ours blanc! Polar bear Armand is always getting hungry!

So, I thought her superstitious beliefs were quite paradoxical. We had a very passionate discussion about French rituals regarding the birth of children. I decided to speak on a distinctly challenging note: « You think, you should respect rituals and wait for the birthday. But, you have already chosen his name. Don’t you think it could be a bad thing, especially before his birth? »

The argument left her speechless. Finally, she tried to find examples in the main religions in France to defend her ideas: « I don’t agree. Muslims give the baby a name 7 days after the birth, and Jews only 8 days after, O.K., but the Christians do not wait; they give it the day the baby is born. Second, Baptism (le Baptême) symbolizes the entrance of the new baby into the Community a few months later. It does not prevent his parents to call him by his name before Baptism ».

I was not convinced, but I was not an expert at religious rituals. Then, her last argument left me speechless in my turn: « Many people in western countries buy baby and mother gifts before the birthday whatever their religions. No one has ever heard of babies passing away because their parents had been offered warm baby clothes for a birthday in January ».

Of course, Cécile is a pragmatic woman who prefers to know a lot about pregnancy so that she can anticipate everything. But things are changing since baby shower has recently appeared in France. Two French mothers Eva Stanislas and Diane Szpigielman have created, a web site giving information, advice and tips to organize baby shower.

In Madame Figaro magazine (12/10/2005), an article  mentioned two main obstacles to baby shower in our country, i.e. superstition and the absence of men during the party. In fact, Cécile and I could not organize a party without her husband. My friend ended the debate on a vigorous note: « Just imagine Paul’s reaction if I didn’t invite him to the party celebrating the future mother of his child! I am sure it would be a case for divorce ».

And yet, French people have also their traditions around the newborn baby (le nouveau-né). I often regret the commercial side of bridal shower, wedding salons and baby shower. We spend more and more money in baby clothes, games and books and we usually forget the origins of our rituals.

Cécile and Paul found their baby’s name in Famili magazine. Cécile is very proud of the Celtic name « Brieuc »: « It comes from Saint Brieuc, one of the seven founding saints of Saint Brieuc town in Christian Brittany ». Why not. « Jean » and « Marie » have long been the favorite French names since 1900, but « Thomas »  and « Léa »  are now the most popular names in France. More and more parents want unusual names that have historical and cultural meanings or very personal connotations.

Religious rituals have almost disappeared in France. Parents do not choose the Saint’s name that corresponds to the birthday, then the godfather’s or the godmother’s name.  In the same way, they do not put prayer sheets or blessed medals over the cradle any more to protect their newborn child from evil. People in Alsace region, in the north east of France used to draw a chalk line around the child’s house. Today, they buy many special products to prevent domestic accidents in the baby’s bedroom.

French baby shower
French baby card announcing the birth of a child in December. The translation of the text: "Tu es notre plus beau cadeau de Noël" is "You are the most beautiful Christmas gift!"

Christmas (Noël) remains the most important ritual that symbolizes the newborn baby in France. Many French people have forgotten the religious meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ. They do not necessarily have a crèche at home in front of their Christmas tree (sapin de Noël).

Christmas symbolizes early childhood for French people who consider the ritual as some kind of magic. When they go to the toy department of Galeries Lafayette store in Paris, their dream of Neverland comes true.

Of course, some parents consider Christmas as the most special event, especially if their baby boy or baby girl was born in December. They have the traditional Christmas meal with goose liver pâté (pâté de foie gras), the turkey with some vegetables (la dinde de Noël) and the Christmas cake (la bûche de Noël) on 24th December. In addition, they have a photo of their newborn taken with Father Christmas (le Père Noël) in front of Le Printemps big department store.

Adults and children enjoy watching the shop windows where automated figures play traditional Christmas scenes in snowy forests or mountains. When they send personalized baby cards (faire-part de naissance) to relatives and friends, they are proud to show their baby as the most wonderful Christmas gift. The new parents usually pay close attention to their baby’s safety so they prefer Christmas decorations made from felt and cotton.

In short, baby showers could have a real success in France, but Christmas will remain the milestone of French rituals regarding the birth of children.

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