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Pregnant WomanIrish Newborn Traditions

By Cathy Walkowiak

When my future sister-in-law told me that she was expecting twins, I promptly asked around about the Irish traditions surrounding newborns and baby showers.  Having grown up in the United States and a new arrival in Dublin, Ireland, I didn’t want to miss out on any traditions surrounding this important event.

I soon learned that many of the Irish traditions surrounding newborns were based on folklore and dealt with the Christening of the baby.

One tradition starts at the Irish wedding, with the ‘magic hanky and the Irish whiskey cake. 

The ‘magic hanky’ is a charming custom which involves having the bride carry a special hanky that, with just a few stitches, could be turned into the christening bonnet for the first baby.  This bonnet can then be turned back into a hanky to be handed down and once again incorporated into the child’s wedding.

See how to make a Hankerchief Baby Bonnet . Follow this link for some Hanky Bonnets with Poems .

The Irish whiskey cake , which is very rich and sweet, was traditionally thought of as a ‘fertility’ cake and was believed to help the newlyweds to quickly start a family.  Irish custom held that at the end of the wedding reception, the top tier of the wedding cake was saved for the christening of their first child.  The newborn’s parents serve the cake at the christening reception and sprinkle crumbs on their baby’s head as a symbolic wish for a long and prosperous life.   Today this Irish tradition has been upgraded, and a bottle of Champagne is usually saved from the reception and so it can be used to ‘wet the babies head’ at the christening.

Another Irish christening custom is to give your baby its first silver coin at the christening. The new parents place the coin in the baby’s hand before the ceremony begins to ensure a prosperous future.

When I asked specifically about giving the mother-to-be a baby shower, I was surprised to learn that baby showers are considered an ‘American’ tradition and have only recently been incorporated into the Irish culture.

There are many who are still superstitious and feel that a baby shower could be a bad omen.  Many won’t even purchase the baby’s pram (stroller), for fear of ‘jinxing’ the pregnancy.  Those who are in favor of having baby showers are following the current baby shower trends, which are being adopted from the American influence.  These parties include tea parties, luncheons and couples showers. 

Couples parties have especially become popular, encouraging both genders to take an active roll in the upcoming event.  Friends and family members are likely to take a page out of one of the popular trend magazines and host a glamorous party that not only provides the new parents with some much needed supplies, but will also give the couple a chance to relax before the big day. 

The mother appreciates the opportunity to ‘dress up’ and the father likes the camaraderie with his friends; and while many Irish lads are still shy about discussing the birthing aspect, they seem happy to ‘help’ the father-to-be with adjusting to the upcoming family addition, by offering a bit of good natured ribbing.

Today, baby showers are giving young Irish mothers and fathers-to-be an opportunity to meet with friends and enjoy a good party before the new arrival.  

While some new parents still like to incorporate some of the older traditions, they do so more out of respect for their heritage rather than in fear of fairies stealing their newborn child.

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