Recently, some friends and I went to visit another mum who had just had her baby girl. While we cooed over the tiny one and reminisced on our own birth experiences, our friend’s Dutch husband prepared a special snack for us. Called Beschuit met Muisjes, it is a round toasted almost cracker-like bread, which is spread with butter and then topped with sugar-coated aniseeds. Usually the aniseeds are white and blue for boys, and we were in for a white and pink treat that morning. It was so lovely to share in their happiness and tradition, and this naturally got us talking about various customs and practices that we had to celebrate the births of our children.
The morning treat and conversation between mums of various nationalities occupied my mind and I could not resist asking my other friends if they had any such customs in their own religions or cultures. Many of them were happy to share these, and they are all so diverse and fascinating. Here are a few of their practices and I’m sure you’re bound to learn something new, as I did 😉
Coming back to my friend and her new-born daughter, while her husband is Dutch, she is Thai and she told us about some Thai traditions. While she didn’t practice these, she was happy to share some of the customs practised in Thailand. In her country, a bluish-purple flower called butterfly pea is used to paint the eyebrows of infants to make it grow thickly.
Other friends also had fascinating traditions to share. Talking to my Japanese friends, I found that they had a myriad of customs which they practised. After birth, mothers keep the umbilical cord that falls from the baby’s belly button in a box specially meant to store it. Besides symbolising the connection between mother and child, it is also a sentimental remnant of childbirth. When a present for the child is received, this is later reciprocated with a present. Customs for children carry on after birth – on a child’s 100th day, the Okuizome meal is held. The child does not eat anything, but family members pretend to feed the baby, symbolising the hope for a future of abundance and good food.
Another very interesting custom takes place when a Japanese child turns 3, 5 and 7 years of age, with an important celebration called Shichi-go-san. On November 15th, when children turn 3, 5 or 7, they dress up in traditional Japanese wear and go to a shrine to pray. They are also given a bag filled with ‘one-thousand years’ red and white candy. These bags are illustrated with turtles and cranes, which are symbols of longevity. These are but a few customs that the Japanese practice, and I’m sure it’ll take many more conversations to learn more! I have to say that Japanese customs are some of the most beautiful and elaborate ones that I’ve seen.
Living in an Arab country now, I natually had to find out the customs of Muslims. When a Muslim child is born, the Aqiqah is performed on the 7th day (or 14th or 21st). For a male baby, two sheep are sacrificed; for a female, one sheep is sacrificed. In the Muslim faith, the sacrifice of the sheep is believed to be an offering so that the child will intercede on his parents’ behalf on judgement day. The meat of the sacrificed sheep is then shared with family, friends, as well as the poor, to celebrate the birth of the child.
Back home in multi-racial Singapore, we have numerous traditions from various religions and cultures. Muslims also perform the customary Aqiqah for their children. Likewise, the Chinese have a celebration for their newborns. Full-month parties are held, and delectable goodies such as auspicious red eggs and cakes are given to family and friends. These symbolise good luck and longevity, which are wished upon the child.
Indians have various practices depending on their religion. My friend, K, has a wee 9 month-old girl and she shared some Hindu traditions with me. When her daughter was brought home from the hospital, K’s mother performed a simple prayer called an Aarthi before the baby entered the house. The prayer was meant to ward off evil and cast away evil eyes from the child. On the 16th day after her birth, a sacrifice was made to a deity, Periyachi Amman, who is the protector of children and mothers. Only women were involved in these prayers and the baby’s name was also officially chosen on this day. In Hindu custom, names are usually chosen depending on astrology and the alignment of stars. Prayers were also held on the 30th day in the temple, with the baby placed on the ground in front of the deity to seek blessings.
Personally, we don’t really follow any traditions because we’re from such a hodgepodge of cultures, which might be the definition of most Eurasians. Apart from TT’s baptism in church when she was receiced into the Catholic faith, there wasn’t anything that we had to adhere to. However, we still wanted to celebrate the birth of our daughter with our family and friends, so we had a little welcome party for her when she was 2 months old. Besides being an opportune time for TT to finally meet those close to us, we also felt that since already know that we will be living overseas for half of her life, we should have a party for her to make up for the ones that we will be unable to have. And it was a nice way to mark the first of many celebrations we will be having as a family.
It’s always a good idea to celebrate a happy occasion and there are so many different ways through which we rejoice in the birth of a child. Many are steeped in religion, culture, or traditions passed down from previous generations. Did you celebrate in any other way?
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