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  • How to Celebrate an Italian Baptism

    Learn about the traditions that come with welcoming a new baby in the family
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Babies are a big deal in southern Italy. For starters, they are becoming rarer and rarer in the Boot, where the government is actually giving financial rewards to Italians making babies for fear that the culture will die out. They also happen to be adorable and give purpose to a people ruled by family.

    Since the majority of Italians identify as Catholic, many babies are baptized in the Church. The ceremony itself is pretty much the same as it is in Catholic churches the world over. But there are certain aspects of the celebrations that are uniquely Italian. You could easily incorporate some of these ideas into your own celebration, no matter where you're throwing your party.

    I have some firsthand knowledge of the Italian baptism. Four years ago, when my son was born, we officially baptized him in the United States; my sister-in-law even traveled from Italy to be his madrina (Godmother). Then, we traveled to Italy a few months later, and we had my son blessed by a priest in a church ceremony and threw a second baptism party in my mother-in-law's backyard. Here's what I learned:

    • Baby has only one Godparent. This is a major difference in the ceremony at church. In Italy, a male baby has a padrino (Godfather) and a female baby has a madrina. Part of the reason we chose to have the official celebration in the United States was that I have a brother and my husband does not; we wanted my brother to be the Godfather, but I also wanted some representation from my husband's side of the family.
    • The party is wedding like. We had the same caterers from our wedding's after party handle the blessing reception in Italy. It cost about the same. We had a three-tiered cake that looked like a wedding cake except it was covered in sky blue icing and had a sugar sculpture in the form of a rainbow on top. In addition, we served giant Baci chocolates that were stuffed with gelato. We also offered fancy antipasto, such as shrimp cocktail bites, mini pizzas, and mini sub sandwiches. I decorated the backyard in decorations featuring rainbows including paper flower bouquets, a wreath made of balloons, and his initial, E, made of paper flowers.
    • The baby's outfit must be off the hook. This is all about the bella figura, an attempt to make a good impression with God and your guests. You have to dress up the baby in white satin gloriousness. My son's outfit was a one-piece satin jumper with a long white satin jacket with ruching and pearls. Yes, it was for a boy. Many boys in Italy wear what looks like a dress to their baptism. Ours had my son looking like Aladdin. Did I mention there was a round hat that also featured pearls?

      What was funny is that we had the original baptism in the States in January, and the outfit was a little big on him. The pants were long and the sleeves were long. We hosted the blessing in Italy four months later, and the outfit was suddenly a shorts jumper with short-sleeves. Baby got big. We couldn't close it in the back and the jacket had three-quarter sleeves. It actually was perfect, because it was August in Ischia, Italy. In other words, it was hot, hot, hot.

    • Your baby will get bling. Guests of the baptized come bearing gifts of gold. My son received a silver ship's steering wheel, a mother-of-pearl anchor, and all the angels and saints in yellow and white gold to wear around his neck someday. He also received two nameplate bracelets, which are the expected gift from your closest relatives apparently. One was for him to wear as a child, and the other was for when he's an adult. One features "Vincenzo,' the name on his birth certificate, and the other has "Enzo," what we actually call him, emblazoned on it. Yes, boys receive as much jewelry as girls do.
    • You gotta give the bomboniere. Guests want a reward for coming to Italian parties, at least the big deal ones, such as a weddings, baptisms, graduations, milestone birthdays, confirmations, and communions. In the past, favors for baptisms included crystal baby carriages, Capodimonte pacifiers, and other junk that would sit in a china cabinet until the next one came along. Of course, five Jordan almonds wrapped in tulle sat atop the gift. Nowadays, many of the favors are more practical but still flashy. I, for instance, was talked into handing out ice cream scoops with glass handles made in Murano, Venice's glass making mecca. Of course, the five Jordan almonds never go out of style and are a must.
    There you have it. As with so many other Italian celebrations, be prepared to go big or go home if you're planning a baptism in the Boot.

    You can read more about all things Italian and living the dolce vita on the Italian Mamma blog, and you can follow Di Meglio at Italian Mamma on Facebook or on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 6/6/16


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