Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Etiquette: Attending a Christening

My husband and I find ourselves often consulting the copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan that his mother gave him upon graduation from high school. It is a bit dated, the 1995 edition we own having last been updated in 1978, but we find an extremely useful guide when we have questions about how to appropriately proceed. I know we are discussing modern manners, not those of Jane Austen's era, but I have decided to start posting when we consult the book, as I just find it so fascinating. Miss Austen, after all, would want us all to be well-mannered, wouldn't she?

I have only attended a baptism, and only one, and as I was in college at the time and was, essentially, the guest of my boyfriend (now husband), I did not trouble myself about gift giving. But now that I have been invited to a christening by a couple with whom we are not only good friends, but also with whom my husband has a former business relationship with, it seemed that we should make sure we are going about the occasion in the correct way. So out came Amy Vanderbilt, who has three full pages on the ceremonial aspects of christenings and baptisms, and she had this to say about gifts:
The godparent gives the baby a christening present which is traditionally something of fine and lasting quality. It may be a sterling silver mug, a porringer, or a napkin ring with the baby's name and the date of the christening engraved on it. Guests at a christening usually give the baby a present, although those who gave one at birth should not feel obligated to give another. Presents are ordinarily opened after the guests have left the lunch or tea. You should keep a list of everyone who gave presents and write a note thanking each person for being a part of such a special day in the baby's life as well as for the present.
If you were wondering, Merriam-Webster defines "porringer" as "a low usually metal bowl with a single and usually flat and pierced handle". You know, like the kind of thing Goldilocks are porridge out of.
My husband and I did give a gift at birth - I worked a cross stitch pattern on two bibs - but we think we will bring something token as an additional memento of the event. I was thinking a book of fairytales, with a personal note to the baby written on the inside cover (of course). I did also look up git giving in the index, and double checked with the section titled  "The Inappropriate Present", just to learn what the boundaries were:
An inappropriate present is one that shows poor judgment or bad taste, or gives the impression you are asking for a favor in return. For instance, it would be thoughtless to surprise a friend with a dog when she may or not have the time or inclination to care for one. In addition, the gift of a secondhand car is of little or no use to someone who won't be able to afford the insurance. You should show discretion about giving expensive jewelry, especially to a young person, and common sense about giving something to someone you're in a business deal with. If you give careful thought to matching the present with the recipient, the chances of giving an inappropriate present are greatly diminished.
So my book idea seems pretty safe. The the inscription will always remind him that we were there for him on this day, yet it isn't overly extravagant and doesn't trespass the bounds of our relationship with the family. Plus, we love books, so it suits the giver as well as the receiver, who will hopefully enjoy it for years to come.

I also though this interesting, on the role older children should play at a christening, although in this case there are none:
The christening is a time for family and friends to be aware of, and sensitive towards, young siblings of the baby. It's only natural for brothers and sisters to feel somewhat jealous of all the attention the new baby is receiving. To help them feel more special they may be given a featured role in the proceedings: carrying flowers or the special missal or prayer book. Guests, too, should make a fuss over young siblings of the guest of honor, perhaps giving each a small present, or it may be a combined present.
I admit I had to look up "missal". Here's the Merriam-Webster definition and orgination, just in case anyone else was wondering:
A book containing all that is said or sung at mass during the entire year. 
Middle English messel, from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French missal, messel, from Medieval Latin missale, from neuter of missalis of the mass, from Late Latin missa mass — more at mass
First Known Use: 14th century
Just thought I'd share! 

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