How Do Atheists Celebrate the Birth of a Baby? August 2, 2010

How Do Atheists Celebrate the Birth of a Baby?

Reader Jonna had a baby a year ago, but she was also moving into a new house at the time and never had a baby shower or any sort of party when the baby was born.

Now, her daughter is turning 1 and she’d like to celebrate.

… There has never been any kind of official “Our Baby Is Here, Come & Meet Her” sort of moment; in fact, we still have extended family and many friends who haven’t been able to meet her in person yet.

Most of my family is very religious, primarily of the conservative Christian variety. If my husband and I were also Christians, we would probably baptize our daughter and thus have a built-in ritual/ceremony of welcome and acknowledgment in which our family & friends could participate. But we are atheists, and therefore have no ceremonies. We need to create one of our own.

Any suggestions on what they could do?

Jonna would also like to hear from Christians as to what they would want to see (or not want to see) from a “baby welcoming ceremony” that left God and Religion out of it.


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  • Maverick Biceps

    How about a “birthday party”

  • Aric

    This may not be very helpful, but, um… Birthday Party?

    Birthday celebrations can be as big or as small as you want them to be. Just invite all the family and friends. It could also be a family picnic or pot-luck. I don’t appreciate ceremonies myself so I won’t suggest any.

  • Hitch

    Just make up your own ceremony.

    I was at one of those a few years ago. No baptizing.

    Instead it was speeches, well-wishes. On guest had a welcome-song and the staples of a social gathering such as food and drinks. All of it happening at a nice place in the country-side.

    A way to get there is to take events you have seen, list what you don’t like about them and just cut that out. Then add in some ideas that you think might be nice and you have a perfectly nice event.

    Instead of baptism it’s then the welcome-party.

  • Heh was going to say bday party too!

  • Maverick Biceps

    Maybe there could even be a “atheist cake” with “secular candles” ahahahahaha this must be a joke. “What kind of ceremony could we have to celebrate the one year anniversary of our child’s birth that doesn’t involve religion?” Hahahahahahaha

  • We had a birthday party for our elder daughter and will do the same for our younger daughter. I’m in Denmark, which isn’t a very religious place, but christenings are entrenched in the culture and expected to happen. I refused to do a christening, and just sent out birthday party invitations to all the extended family and everyone. It was very well-received. No one questioned it; they just showed up with all the presents they would have brought to a christening and had a great time without having to attend a church service.

    If a ceremony is important to you, UUs or Humanist congregations will happily do name-giving or child-welcoming ones. Personally, I was happy to skip that part and just have cake!

  • DrJimmy

    Count me among those suggesting a birthday party. I can’t see why that should have to include any religious component.

  • Ramon Caballero

    Yeah, me too, Birthday Party? Is that not normal? Why is it religious to have a Baby Shower? And why are we atheist forbidding ourselves to have ceremonies?
    Baby Shower=Congratulating the Mom to be; share knowledge; give support
    Marriage=Congratulating the new born family, being a witness to somebody else big commitment, give support.
    Funerals=Supporting the family that lose a person, share stories, keep the memory of the deceased alive.
    I do all that, well, being a male means no Baby showers but I send my wife 🙂
    And I hate funerals because I cannot turn off my empathy, too much pain.
    I love marriages! (even when they are inside a church/temple) 😀

  • Valhar2000

    My brother had a baby a month ago, and there was no baby shower. They just had friends and family come over when they could.

    That said, Ramon is right: if they want a ceremony all they have to do is make one up. That’s how all ceremonies came to be. They were all made up by people at some point, along with the godly or spiritual gobbledygook that accompanies them.

  • Claudia

    There are also humanist baby-naming ceremonies, that mimic Baptism without the woo. If you think your baby is too old for baby-naming there are apparently versions for slightly older children. Look online to see if there are any Humanist chapters in your area. Here’s one place to start. They’ll probably be able to put you in contact with a celebrant that can help you plan the ceremony.

  • Matt

    I don’t see anything inherently religious in any of the normal deals. Just forgo the church and baptism.

  • My husband’s family is very Catholic so every cousin who has a baby has a Baptism even if they themself is not religious. We go to so many of thease, give extra gifts, set aside another day to drive away from home….. ugg. Yeah, I guess I’m a little annoyed! Our kids have not been Baptised nor do we feel a need to have ANOTHER get together even if secular.
    I think a birthday party would be a fine occasion for welcomeing.

  • Absolutely a first birthday party. I think this is especially acceptable if it’s the first child of the family (what a great time to set a tradition). Birthday parties in my part of the world (small town Alberta) are all about the adults getting together for the first couple of years. It’s secular and gender neutral.

  • I’m confused. I thought we’re supposed to eat the babies?

    Seriously though, a birthday party is the way to go. Our daughter’s first birthday is next month, and we’re celebrating by taking her and our friends to the Pittsburgh Irish Fest, a somewhat non-traditional birthday party, but for sure a party!

  • Hitch

    Ol’Froth, I did mention food, come on, give me some credit 😉

  • Janina

    In the TV show “Army Wives” there is also a non-religious couple and they had a very beautiful welcome-ceremony for the baby. They even had some sort of “godparents” who vowed to care for the baby when the parents couldn’t and that they would treat her as their own child. There was a speaker who pronounced good wishes for the child’s life, too. I thought it was a good alternative to a baptism and if I ever have children I will probably do something like this, too.

  • Baby shower? Is that a shower of babies or a shower for babies? What a strange notion either way.

    I like the sound of a “Our Baby Is Here, Come & Meet Her” day. There should definitely be gifts and plenty of food and everyone should wear their finest hats. No masks though. Babies aren’t generally fans of masks.

  • I’m kinda confused… isn’t a baby shower just a party before the actual birth to give Mom-to-be a bunch of presents?

    Just a plain old first birthday seems good to me, why does there need to be a ceremony? Even when I’ve had cousins or friends baptize their kids it was a separate day/event from their first birthday

  • Anne

    My (non-atheist but religion-drama-avoiding) aunt had a “How Do You Like Earth?” party for each of her newborns. In addition to the cake and etc., she hung large pieces of posterboard in the living room and provided markers for everyone to write on the boards what they most recommended New Baby experience during his/her lifetime. I’m pretty sure her kids still have those. 🙂

  • Meg

    Have a birthday party. At age one it’s for the family, not the kid anyway.

  • About the whole “baby shower” thing, my understanding is that Jonna didn’t have one because she was moving, not because it was a religious event. Just logistical issues getting in the way. But I could be wrong.

    From the Christian perspective…I vote for a birthday party. I also think the naming ceremony is a very good idea. Honestly, if Christian family and friends know that you’re Atheists, they shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no baptism or infant dedication. I would want to see parents who love their child and want their loved ones to help welcome the child into the family…and it sounds like that’s what you already want! I think a birthday party is the way to go, because in my experience, almost everyone loves celebrating a first birthday :]

  • beckster

    You could take a cure from adoptive families. We find all sorts of reasons to celebrate, especially those of us who are not positive of our child’s actual birthdate. We are gearing up to have a celebration of the one-year anniversary of the day our son joined our family. Just pick something special to your family and throw a party!

  • brent

    my advice is to get over it.

    don’t have a ceremony.

    ceremonies are part of what is wrong with religion in the first place.

    maybe have a party, but don’t fake your own ceremony.

    That’s like eating a vegan hot-dog. It’s just wrong.

    The people who love your child will love her and be in her life. Those that won’t, won’t. It’s not that big a deal.

    If you’re the first to have a baby in your circle of friends and you’re desperate for them to accept you and your child then you have to understand that things are going to change – but that there will be people who will make the special effort to be in your and your child’s life. A ceremony isn’t going to change that.

    (btw, we had baby showers for both our kids mostly for the stuff and to include everyone and for the party. religion didn’t enter into it. why would it?)

  • Birthday party.

    And, since it is her first birthday, be sure to let her have her own cake (with lots of icing) and have the cameras standing by.

  • ewalter

    For Jonna from a Christ follower perspective: I don’t think the bible teaches a baptism for babies anyway; it’s a step of faith for people to express their submission and commitment to Christ, IMHO.

    But aside from that, why not simply celebrate the unique person that the baby is – no one else like him/her, who will make his or her unique impact on the world? It could include gifts. Better yet – ask family & friends to speak those kinds of blessings into the occasion.

  • Phoena

    I know I’m a bit odd, but if these people have not made any plans to see me or my daughter after all this time, I think I’d write them off. First baby is big event in someone’s life, and if your “friends” didn’t want to share in your joy, they can’t be very good friends.

    Of course, if this is more about getting attention and gifts, by all means, invite everyone you’ve ever met, even if they’ve shown no interest in your life in recent years.

    Additionally, I’d rethink the idea of exposing the child to conservative christian relatives. Yes, she’s only a year old, but it’s good to get the precedent set now. It’s easy for adults to deflect their negativity, but kids are impressionable and easily hurt. I still remember all the tricks and hurtful lies crazy right-wing relatives told me as a kid. I wish my parents had had the balls to take a stand and keep them away from us kids. We all get enough of that crap from the rest of the world — do kids need it from your circle of friends and relatives, too?

  • Bob

    In the Chinese culture, babies are presented to the family and friends at a ‘red egg and ginger’ party, so named for two of the dishes served. It’s usually a lunch, and the whole idea is to wish the new family member prosperity, etc.

    That’s separate from any christening or baptism.

  • Roxane

    My family has been spread out all over the country, and as it turned out, the ones who didn’t make a push to come visit during the first year became the people that my kids–now 31 and 27–have only seen once or twice in their whole lives–when we made the effort and bought the plane tickets. You can’t force familial closeness by staging ceremonies–even when there are no serious religious differences.

    I know it’s become more usual to hold birthday parties for one-year-olds, but we never did them until the kids were old enough to participate actively and start to socialize with their peers. If the family isn’t naturally close, parties for one-year-olds can look like another shakedown for gifts.

  • DemetriusOfPharos

    Barbecue?

  • Shannon

    With both my kids I was too frazzled to want to have anything big like that. I preferred to introduce the sprouts to people in small groups, one family at a time. Different strokes for different folks.

    But since the kidlet is approaching 1, I agree with others who have said why not just a first birthday party.

    Mmmm, reading the comments I also sort of agree with Brent. I don’t get the need for atheists to come up with new ceremonies. But if it makes them happy, then why not? Just not something I’m interested in.

  • littlejohn

    We eat it, of course! Don’t you guys keep up with atheist rituals according to Landover Baptist Church? Paston Deacon Fred can explain it to you.

  • liz

    in my opinion if you try to do anything more than a birthday party it could cause tension or even anger throughout the family. By throwing a humanist naming ceremony or some sort of other non-religious ceremony, you’d be pointing out the fact that you AREN’T having a baptism. Which is completely okay, if you don’t mind disappointing a few family members.

    Baby showers aren’t religious at all…at least i’ve never been to a religious one. And in all reality the religious aspects of a baptism end the second you leave the church. All the baptisms i’ve been to (quite a few, being raised catholic) were just like going to church and then having a regular family reunion type thing afterwards…with presents for the baby of course. So yea…pretty much the same thing as a big birthday party.

  • Alicia

    I agree with @Daniel!

    My niece’s first birthday party was fun for all. She dove into her own personal cake and got icing everywhere.

  • Ruru

    There are also humanist baby-naming ceremonies, that mimic Baptism without the woo. If you think your baby is too old for baby-naming there are app

  • In the church I was raised in, we didn’t do christenings. I’d invite them to the birthday party. This seems like a holdover from a former religious background. If you want to invite them to the birthday party, go ahead, but if it will make you uncomfortable, don’t. Your atheism is none of their business.

  • Angel

    I don’t have children, but I do have a lot of pals who have had kids in the recent years so I’ve actually given this some thought.

    I suspect we’ll wind up having “X’s First Mud Cake Party”, and just wind up having some garden party where the kids of all ages are encouraged to get dirty under supervision of their parents and have some snap-happy people take lots of photos so people can add to their own family albums.

    As soon as you start thinking about inviting folks to a “First”, you can get creative from there and plan in advance. Perhaps “Baby’s First Meal & Wine Tasting”, and encourage everyone to bring a soft food that they had success with and you can get a big giant group to help figure out what your baby likes to eat.

  • I agree with the birthday party ideas. After our first was born, I considered having a (secular) naming ceremony…but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like it was a “substitute baptism” or something. Like we were admitting our baby/family needed some kind of ceremony (we didn’t feel we were missing out on anything). We never got around to doing it (baby #2 came along so quickly after baby #1 that life was too insane to even worry about it). By the time baby #3 arrived, I didn’t even think about it.

    We did have a little personal tradition for our kids, though (nobody else was invited…it was just us). After each of our kids was born, their first trip to dip their toes in the ocean was significant to us. Like our own personal “introducing baby to the world.” When asked, I jokingly tell people that was our kids’ baptism. 🙂

    If she *wants* a ceremony, she can definitely find the info she needs online to make their own naming ceremony; even hire a secular celebrant. Just keep in mind if you have a religious extended family, there will be inevitable questions about baptism, etc. Since we didn’t do any kind of ceremony that was a parallel to baptism, the questions never came up. I think the really religious ones just assume my kids are baptized.

    I my opinion, though, a big family BBQ or party to celebrate baby’s first birthday is a great way to celebrate her life!!

  • muggle

    Doesn’t everyone throw a huge birthday party for the first birthday? I thought that was pretty standard and I too am befuddled as to what the heck’s religious about a baby shower. Are we sure this isn’t a Poe?

  • Canadiannalberta

    Well, my bro and sis-in-law are from diff religions, so they had a secular ‘Welcome!’ party. We had cake. People brought presents since it was also Little Niece’s first birthday. (The couple had too much going on when Little Niece was born to have a welcome party)

    So perhaps, a welcome party is in order? 😀

  • littlejohn

    What’s with all this “birthday party” stuff? I had my first birthday party 12 months after I was born. What would this be, the kid’s zeroeth birthday party?
    Let the adults have a party if they want, the baby will just be busy pooping itself. In fact, at most of my parties, that’s what half my guests do.

  • NorDog

    littlejohn,

    I always thought that what we call birthdays are acurately called anniversaries of a birthday.

    I mean, isn’t it rights to say that we only have one birthday, the day we were born?

  • A cookout! (Or a barbecue.)

    My husband and I have a cookout every time we want to get the family together, and we announce the intention of the cookout either before or during the event, depending on the nature of the event. It isn’t necessarily a family tradition in general; we just have a nice yard for cookouts, so people come when invited.

    Tell them ahead of time that it’s the baby’s first cookout, and I’m sure you’ll find yourself smothered in baby gifts. And drowning in leftover potato salad. 🙂

  • Martin

    As an atheist, what should be done is the baby should be rubbed with the most foul tasting ingredients. Then alongside this an oath by the atheist family members should be recited saying no matter how hungry they get, they will not eat that specific baby. 😀

  • Martin

    fact is though, as atheist, they probably aren’t trying to force a belief on the child so a ritual wouldn’t be needed, though a birthday party is always expected!!!

  • I’m annoyed when someone has a birthday party for a 1-year-old. Since clearly the parents don’t intend to have a “birthday party” but an “introduction to the world” that’s exactly what they should have.

  • Dan

    Joining the chorus of birthday party.

    That said, one is a much better age to do something like that as they will have a bit of personality.

    Love my daughter, but at 3 weeks old, not so exciting to look at.

    I don’t know that you need any sort of ceremony at all, but you could easily tie it to the new home too. “Come meet our child and see our new home!”

    If you really want some sort of ritual, possibly look into old monarchy presentations – something along the line of “this is our heir, see that they are healthy”. I assume there are such ceremonies scattered throughout societies with hereditary rulership and some might either not have religious elements or be edited for your needs.

  • muggle

    littlejohn:

    “had a baby a year ago” + “now her daughter is turning 1 and she’d like to celebrate”

    You know, the opening sentences of the post.

  • Another vote for birthday party here. I see no need for ceremonies, but isn’t a baby’s first birthday usually a time for friends and family members to come together and celebrate? That’s how it’s always been in my family. I’d just recommend throwing a party and inviting everyone who’s important to you.

  • trixr4kids

    There are secular humanist celebrants. I’d recommend you contact your nearest Center for Inquiry. If you’re in or near Southern California, CFI-LA could help find someone who specializes in celebrating important milestones and could help you plan something.

    Here’s a link with contact info for celebrants in a few states, but I’m sure there are others.

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=celebrants_14_1

  • Don Rose

    Yeah, a birthday party seems obvious. If I were planning to have an event to welcome a baby to the world, I’d probably just throw a party. The invitations would say “Come meet the newest member of our family!”. Seems like a great reason to throw a party, and has nothing to do with religion.

  • I didn’t read everyone else’s comments, but we had naming ceremonies… that way everyone chips in

  • Elle

    I didn’t read all the other comments, so I’m sure this has already been mentioned multiple times… but there’s a little something called a “Birthday Party” that we celebrate in my family. I’d like to say that I’m not being sarcastic, but that would be a lie.

    In all honesty, though, is it really such a strange concept? I was not raised religiously at all and I know for my first birthday (and every year hence) my parents threw a birthday party for me. And even cousins of mine that were being raised in religious households had 1st Birthday parties thrown for them. I always assumed that it was something that crossed most cultural lines in one way or another.

  • 2 more grandkids headed our way this year and all we say is WOW. Life is precious and every year of life is important.

    We do many of the things Christians go without all the god stuff. 🙂 Showers, gifts, etc.

    The challenge comes after the fact when religious family members want to know about baptism, dedication, etc.

  • Bruce, not a challenge at all, just say, “nope, no need to spend our money on that silly stuff, we are getting her a PONY!”

    As for the OP, How about a 1 year birthday party and a good photographer?

  • SickoftheUS

    As with religious belief, don’t expect relatives and friends to share your, the parents’, “joyousness” over this particular event in your lives, which is after all very personal.

    There are too many sound reasons not to create more human children to gobble the resources of this planet. Snap your fingers about 3 times per second – that’s the NET increase of humans crowding onto the planet.

    Additionally, a 1-year-old’s birthday party is much less about the child, who doesn’t have the brain function to understand it, than about the parents’ social needs and, I believe, unhealthy dependence on ritual. And as some here have admitted, it’s the shakedown, which is extra insulting to relatives or friends who already don’t buy into the increasingly pro-natalist crap (of American society, at least).

    Seriously? You expect people to come to a party ostensibly for a largely unformed being, and to reward the parents, in money or social benefits, for creating another human?

    Skip the child, and just invite people over for a fun party. THAT will be something most of your friends can get behind.

  • Keri

    We did a naming ceremony for our son, which was a very simple get-together of family and friends. We had everyone write on a leaf (it was autumn at the time) and send it to us in advance (those overseas made paper leaves). On the leaf we asked people to write their wishes for our son – they ranged from “be happy” to really lovely and thoughtful wishes for a healthy and happy life. Then on the day we read all the leaves out, read a poem, gave an explanation of why we chose the names we did for him, and then we all had lunch together. We later laminated the leaves and made a mobile from them.

  • blueridgelady

    I think that having the family gathering at a nice park, or taking pictures would be a good idea. A 1-year-old is still a baby and while she won’t understand it, it’s nice to be able to have people meet your baby when you aren’t bogged down with, you know, *just delivering a baby!*. People seem to assume that everyone who has a baby wants a ton of company right after..meh. The year after seems better.

    The occasion is just as special, w/o all the weird rituals. Maybe everyone can welcome her to the world in a video, maybe everyone can color a picture and have it made into a quilt. The time together is what is most important. (I doubt many grandparents would refuse to see their grandchildren if there were no religion involved, even if they were religious.)

  • blueridgelady

    SickoftheUS’ comment is wildly inappropriate. If you didn’t read, this person has a child. They aren’t thinking about having a child, the child exists in the world and is loved. I am pro choice and respect bodily autonomy. Hypothetical post about children and child-rearing? Go for it. You can choose to have a child or not.

    But commenting on someone else’s baby (actual, living breathing baby) like that is just tacky and out of place. I wish the internet weren’t so cruel sometimes.

  • UU Dedication Ceremony? It worked really well for my sister’s family. Something pseudo-religious for the religious relatives and a picnic party afterwards!

  • Kate

    For a way to incorporate some kind of ceremony or new tradition, you could try something like this:

    Provide a blank book (like a scrapbook or something similar) and ask your guests to write in it with advice for later in life or well wishes, and sign it with their name. It would make for an awesome gift later in your child’s life, maybe for a high school graduation gift. That way your friends and family can feel like there was something meaningful happening at the gathering, and makes it all about your daughter.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

  • SickoftheUS

    But commenting on someone else’s baby (actual, living breathing baby) like that is just tacky and out of place.

    No, my comment was about actual, living adults in the breeders’ social circle, who just may have reasoned opinions about population and environment. The blog entry is about a *ritual* and satisfying the needs of the parents, who assume that others share their values about children, which is ironic given their sensitivity to other people’s differing attitudes about religion. But, just as with religion, some people don’t like having natalist expectations thrust in their faces from friends and family.

    It’s not the baby’s fault. It’s the parents and their programming.

  • blueridgelady

    um..
    “Skip the child, and just invite people over for a fun party. THAT will be something most of your friends can get behind.”

    Sorry, that doesn’t seem to agree with your explanation. Anyone who doesn’t want to go to whatever party/celebration/ceremony doesn’t have to.

    I respect your opinion- I don’t have kids, my partner is adopted, and I have friends who are staunchly anti-reproducing, and some friends with kids. My main point is that whether you intended it or not, I feel your post came off as insensitive and mean to the parent(s).

  • Annie

    Isn’t it a bit late for a baby welcoming ceremony? I’m with those who suggest a birthday party.

    However, a great book for non-theistic (yet some still spiritual) baby naming and welcoming ceremonies is “Welcoming Ways” by Andrea Gosline. I recommend it as a great resource.

  • RG

    Why does there need to be an “atheist” way to do anything? Just do what you want to do.

  • bullet

    Check out this link to a “naming ceremony”. Sounds really cool and I think I’ll want to do this when my daughter is born (after the grandparent-placating baptism).

    A Samhain Saining
    “We worked a little magic in Mid-City today. We gathered on the banks of Bayou St. John and collectively welcomed a new person into our community.”