Everything You Wanted to Know About Christening Gowns
Nothing sparks joy quite like the arrival of a new baby. While it is a life-changing experience for the parents, the family and community also have special traditions to celebrate. To welcome the baby into the Christian Church, parents often partake in a christening ceremony. No ceremony is complete without the much-anticipated christening gown.
A christening gown is more than just a pretty outfit. It is a family heirloom to be treasured for generations to come. Members of the British royal family have all worn the same delicate satin and lace christening gown first created for Queen Victoria’s oldest daughter nearly two centuries ago. Many families even sew a piece of the christening gown into the baby’s future wedding dress.
What is a Christening?
Christening comes from the term “to christen” or “to name.” This ceremony evolved from the declaration of the baby’s name to the Christian church. This is often the baby’s first introduction to their new church community. It’s a special time for the church to embrace and celebrate the joy of the new baby.
What is the History of Christening Apparel?
Like many special occasions, the apparel chosen for a christening is significant. Traditionally babies are adorned in luxurious, awe-inspiring christening gowns. These christening gowns are long and drape over the baby’s feet as they are held lovingly by a relative at the front of the church.
In the very early days of Christianity, however, infants were swaddled in bands of lighter shades of linen to signify their purity. This is even mentioned in the Bible when a mother brings her baby for Jesus to baptize: "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.” (Luke 2:7) These bands of cloth were later used to bind the couple’s hands during their wedding ceremony, hence the term “tying the knot.”
In medieval times, babies were swaddled for their christenings in a “bearing cloth,” a large remnant of fine silk adorned with lace and elaborate trim.
This practice remained in place until the 18th century when christening gowns became more like miniature versions of adult ensembles. Long unisex gowns with scooped backs and gathered waists were paired with full bonnets and slippers. In the early 20th century this style further evolved to include short frills, Anglaise lace, and silk. This is the traditional heirloom Victorian style that continues to be popular today.
What color should a christening gown be?
The colors chosen for the christening ceremony carry symbolic significance. Christening gowns are traditionally white or ivory to symbolize innocence and purity. White or ivory lace or silk can also be a feature. Today's families are sometimes opting for pastels and creams in place of white, however. Other families are now replacing the gown with a dapper suit for a baby boy, also in white, cream or pastel.
At what age do you christen a baby?
While there is no set rule, Christenings typically occur when the baby is a few weeks or months old. This is because this is the time when the baby will be first introduced to the church. The church can use this opportunity to welcome the baby and congratulate the new parents. It is also considered an invitation to the extended church community to include the new parents and baby in their regular prayers.
This rule is flexible, however, and can be influenced by the availability of the families involved and the church schedule.
In some churches, the christening and baptism ceremonies are combined. In this case, the baby might be a bit older or might even be a toddler. The same christening gown or special outfit can be worn for either ceremony. Whether you choose to hold a separate baptism and christening or combine the two traditions, this will be a beautiful way to mark the beginning of your baby’s upbringing in the Christian faith.
Where can you buy a Christening gown?
For over thirty years, Baby, Beau & Belle has hand-crafted one-of-a-kind heirloom christening gowns for infants and babies. We are a small, family-owned and operated design house that is dedicated to creating beautiful memories through lasting ensemble keepsakes. We design and hand-sew all our gowns in the USA in small batches. Our unique style incorporates both vintage and modern design elements. Each christening gown is created with your sweet baby’s comfort in mind – From the softest and highest quality materials to our top-rate artistry. We offer christening gowns for boys and girls as well as unisex outfits. Our caring and knowledgeable sales team is happy to help guide you through your purchase and give advice on sizing. We are proud to offer christening gowns that will become a cherished family heirloom in your home.
Photos courtesy of Paulina Larrea de Auer