Spain: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

A Christening Festival

All Spanish children have a long string of Christian names. In the case of girls these invariably include some title of the Blessed Virgin, such as Dolores, Immaculata, or de la Concepcion. A boy, too, is generally given one of the Virgin's names to single him out as the Church's son of the Holy Mother, as well as the numerous masculine Christian names which hand him over to the care of some patron saint, give him a feast-day, which is an annual event of even more importance than his birthday, and stamp him as the son of his father, the special charge of his godfather, the direct descendant of his grandfather, and the nephew of various uncles several times removed.

The christening ceremony is always a great event in a family. The most important preliminary is the choice of godparents, and before the final selection is made there is a great discussion in the bosom of the family as to which friends or relatives are most suitable for the post. And in Spain the post of godparent is not a sinecure, involving a more or less dilatory interest in the spiritual welfare of the godchild. Spanish god-parents have a very high idea of their moral responsibilities, and they do not shirk their worldly duties, albeit these are of a very expensive nature. By solemn oath they bind themselves to bring up their godchild should the real parents die; but though the worst may not happen, they have many claims to meet in the best of circumstances.

First, there is the christening gift to be made. That, of course, does not strike you as at all an unusual demand on the godfather's purse; but what of the next occasion, that must be celebrated by a handsome present? Not many of you, I fancy, have a beautiful jewel which was presented to you in honour of your first tooth. Yet not only must a Spanish godfather make the appearance of his godchild's first tooth a festival for the baby, but nurse, too, expects her services in the interests of that tooth to be recognized by a handsome gift of gold money. As to the annual festivals which no good godfather in Spain would dream of overlooking, their name is legion; there is the child's name-day, which is to say his patron saint's day, New Year's Day, and a countless number of national feast-days.

Following close on the selection of godparents comes the christening ceremony. With rich and poor alike this is the occasion for a merry party of friends and relatives; but if you would see a national christening in its full splendour, you must take part in the ceremony which makes the heir of some old country family a member of the Catholic Church. On such an occasion the whole country-side makes holiday. Early in the morning the home of His Majesty the Baby is invaded by guests and sightseers, who come from far and near, on horseback or muleback, or in a conveyance that may be anything from a stately coach to a rickety two-wheeled cart.

A procession is formed, headed by the local guard in uniform. Behind this official ride all the guests who can boast of a mount of any description. Next in order come two four-horse carriages, the first containing the baby, nurse, and godparents; the second, the father and other relations—not the mother, however, for she waits at home to welcome the heir on his return. The carriages of honour are followed by the motley collection of guests' conveyances, and in the rear is a contingent of servants and farmers on the estate, who march solemnly in pairs.

The procession wends its way to the parish church in the nearest village, and on nearing the square falls in with a crowd of villagers, whose excitement is at present kept well within bounds. At the church door the guests are each given a lighted taper, whereupon they line up on either side of the entrance, and wait while the godfather, with the baby in his arms and the god-mother at his side, passes through their ranks, followed by the father and other near relatives. The first notes of the church organ are heard, the procession begins to move slowly up the aisle, and within a short time the ceremony at the font has been performed and the service is over.

As the church bells ring out the joyful news that the child has now been baptized, the orderly scene in the square is changed in a twinkling to pandemonium. Men and women are shouting, gesticulating, children are scrambling helter-skelter to the door. A moment ago no one would have imagined there were half as many youngsters in the whole village. What an anxious minute it is for the little ones! The godfather is coming out to shower coppers among them, and they all want to be in the thick of the fight.

The procession begins to re-form, and at an auspicious moment, when there is a temporary lull in the excitement around, the baby is driven off homewards, to be followed far by a thousand echoes of Long life!" mingled with congratulations to the proud and happy relations.

Home reached, the baby is handed to the mother, who has been anxiously and eagerly awaiting his return. Then comes a magnificent baptismal breakfast, and the final scene of the banquet, as of the whole ceremony, is the drinking of the baby's health.