The Royal Christening & Our Ties to Tradition
The headlines about Prince George's christening generally trumpet the ways in which William and Kate are breaking with tradition. However, amid the many ways they are upholding tradition is one big one: holding the christening in the first place.
Despite its past as a bastion of Christianity, Europe is rapidly secularizing, with Great Britain losing its faith at a particularly fast pace. The church, like mainline Protestant denominations here in the U.S., is facing immense challenges.
Of course, I wouldn't have expected the royals to forgo altogether the ceremony at which their son is baptized—what a scandal that would have caused in the House of Windsor! But there is still something significant and meaningful to me about a christening in the news and the interest it sparked. Even the ways in which the royal parents broke with tradition have enhanced and not devalued it, helping make the pomp-and-circumstance of an old-time ritual feel more "theirs."
Birth ceremonies aren't often in the public eye these days. With today's increasingly creative pregnancy announcements, gender reveals, and birth announcements, a baptism or bris may not become a YouTube sensation. But many of us are still welcoming our children into our faith communities with rituals old and new. Doing so provides a chance for our family, friends, and community to publicly embrace our newborns, and to offer their blessings and wishes to them--and for us parents, and our spiritual leaders, to set our children on a course that we hope will be lifelong and meaningful.
We held Jewish "simchat bat" ceremonies for both of our daughters, and will either have another one or a bris when our new baby arrives in the next few weeks. (Yes, we're truly old school: religious ceremonies but no pre-birth gender reveals for us!) "Simchat bat" is Hebrew for "joy of a daughter," and at these events, we said prayers thanking God for our babies and spoke about the meaning of the names we gave them.
In Judaism, there is no ancient ritual for welcoming girls (like there is a bris for boys), and so the simchat bat is a modern ceremony that draws on traditional prayers and other sources. In some ways, it's the flip side of what the royal family did: They were modernizing a traditional ceremony while we worked to make a modern ceremony feel traditional.
The enthusiasm with which the public has greeted Prince George's christening and the intense interest in the ways they are upholding or breaking tradition—like our fascination with the royal family itself—show our intense interest in connecting with the past. We as a society find meaning in these moments, even amidst our rapid secularization. Births, weddings, funerals, these are the times when we turn to spirituality to articulate and amplify intense emotions.
I hope that the public finds inspiration in Prince George's christening, but mostly I hope that Will and Kate find meaning in it.
What about you? Did you hold a religious ceremony to welcome your newborn?