The History of the Modern Baby Shower
Historically, all cultures have developed and maintained rituals surrounding childbirth. Many of those rituals incorporated elements of the culture’s religion. In ancient Greece, when a child was born, those present at the birth shouted “oloyge!” in celebration of the end of labor. A welcoming ceremony called Amphidromia was conducted on either the fifth or seventh day after the birth. In this ceremony, the father walked around the family hearth several times to symbolize the child’s entry into the household. Another ceremony called Dekate was observed on the tenth day, in which the new mother enjoyed a meal with friends and relatives celebrating her return to society. She would dedicate the gifts she received to the birth-goddess Eileithyia.
In ancient societies, women were often confined during pregnancy. In the Middle Ages, new mothers continued to be confined for 40 days after the birth of a child. That meant she was not even allowed to attend their baptismal ceremony! The child’s godparents usually bought gifts for the child, but rather than modern baby care gifts, the most common gift was a pair of silver spoons. During the Renaissance, gift items included wooden trays, bowls, paintings, sculpture, clothing and food. The most popular gift items were painted childbirth trays which, in addition to carrying food for new mothers, came to symbolize wishes for good health for mother and child.
The term “baby shower” is derived from the Victorian era custom of putting gifts inside a parasol, which, when opened, literally showered the recipient with gifts. Showers began as post-birth tea parties attended by other women, in which games were often played. The new mother was positioned in a decorated chair that symbolized a return to a pure virginal state, as well as an economically dependent one.
The economic prosperity during the baby boom after WWII helped give rise to the consumer ideology of the 1950’s and 60’s, which was the beginning of the modern baby shower. Baby showers served to help defray some of the costs for young parents. Some of the most common baby care gifts given by more financially established family members were expensive items such as cribs, playpens, baby carriages and changing tables. Baby care gifts given by friends often included adorable clothing items, bibs, diapers and toys, such as rattles. Gradually, motherhood itself came to be defined to a great extent by the accoutrements required for infant care.
In Western culture, modern baby showers are customarily given before the birth of a child, in part so that when the child is born, she will have everything necessary to care for a new infant. However, partly in response to high infant mortality rates caused by poverty, many other cultures observe similar rituals in giving baby care gifts after the birth of the child. Rather than baby showers, many countries observe other traditions surrounding the birth of children.
Childbirth Celebrations around the Globe
In Chile, one of the most important traditions is that of choosing godparents and the baby’s baptism. In Japan, baby care gifts aren’t given until after the baby is born. Mother and child are given a month or two to rest and bond before festivities begin. A gift of 10,000 yen is more traditional than purchasing baby care gifts. However, gifts which depict dogs may be welcome before the birth, as dogs are considered symbolic of a safe and speedy delivery.
In Pakistan, rather than a baby shower, the birth of a child is celebrated by giving alms to the poor. In China, baby showers are typically held on the first or second full moon after the birth of a child, and are often formal dinner banquets at which guests pass red envelopes symbolizing good fortune containing money, to the new parents. In France and Korea, baby showers aren’t given until the child’s first birthday.
In addition to traditional baby showers in which baby care gifts are given, some celebrate the event with a meal shower. As any sleep-deprived new mother knows, cooking can become more of a dangerous chore than a pleasure in the months following the birth of a child. A variety of home-made meals that don’t have to be prepared is a thoughtful and time-saving gift.
How Technology Has Changed Traditional Baby Showers with Baby Care Gifts
Advances in technology have resulted in other time-saving developments as well, such as invitations being created online and emailed rather than being delivered by post. Today’s mothers-to-be also have the option of setting up an online registry. Such registries have several benefits. One of them is that those who are unable to attend a baby shower in person can still have a gift delivered in their names. A second benefit is that gifts aren’t duplicated. The parents list items they need and the items are removed from the list as they are purchased.
Technology has also added some new games to the more traditional ones played at baby showers. There are even completely virtual baby showers! Whatever form it takes, or when, the birth of a child is perhaps life’s best cause for celebration.