It’s raining babies! Showers and showers of them if you can believe what the statistics are telling us. There has apparently been a massive surge in the number of parties being thrown to celebrate the impending birth of babies in the UK.
But before we blame consumerism from across the pond - with multi-national retailers tapping into the great American dream – it appears that pregnancy celebrations have been around for a lot longer than we think and baby showers are nothing new – it’s just marketing surrounding the shower concept that has altered its profile.
The idea of showering the parents-to-be with good wishes, love and baby gifts is a way for friends and family to celebrate the pending arrival as well as helping parents-to-be to tick off items on the wish list which can get very expensive!
Traditions among different cultures have stood the test of time – in Finland boxes filled with baby supplies have been given as gifts down the generations with special emphasis on the actual box, often hand carved and intricately decorated, which is passed down through the families. Today the Finnish government also fund a box full of baby essentials for new parents in a contemporary take on the age old giving tradition.
Many families across the world celebrate the baby’s impending birth with a gift of jewellery – in China a necklace or bracelet adorned with a long-life lock – serving as a symbol of protection to help ward off evil – is traditionally gifted. The lock is usually removed on their wedding day when their families consider them as fully fledged adults! Jade is also another protective symbol and many people give the new baby jade charms in the shape of his or her astrological symbol – like monkeys, boars, rats or dragons.
Gifts of cash also remain a popular Chinese tradition with notes tucked into a lucky red envelope known as Hongbao. Another delightful tradition is the 100 Good Wishes Quilt consisting of 100 squares of cloth contributed by family and friends along with a wish which the mum-to-be sewed together in readiness for baby’s arrival. The quilt in turn was passed down through the generations, with colourful squares being added to it with each new baby’s arrival.
In India, the traditional pregnancy ritual called Seemantha is held in the 6th or 8th month of pregnancy with mum-to-be showered with dry fruits, sweets and gifts and the emphasis very much on music which was traditionally thought to activate the baby’s hearing function.
The ancient Egyptians and Greeks held rituals after the birth itself offering gifts and good wishes to the gods and goddesses – so baby may have missed out there! Onto Medieval Europe and with the very real risk of the mother dying in childbirth, priests would visit women during labour allowing them to confess their sins. If all was well and mother and baby survived, the baptism was held the same day with godparents giving gifts to the child, traditionally to include a pair of silver spoons.
Later on during the Renaissance period, mothers were given functional items like wooden bowls and trays but increasingly extravagant gifts such as paintings and sculptures featuring the Annunciation.
The Victorians celebrated after the baby’s birth as pregnancies tended to be kept under wraps – but once baby was on the scene they marked the occasion with the equivalent of a baby shower – tea parties that included games and gifts for the baby, often handmade but with the grandmother always gifting an item of silver.
The modern baby shower party really started in the 1940’s and 50’s with mums expecting the Baby Boom generation after the Second World War. There was still rationing and so the gifts for new parents again tending to be handmade. It followed on from the tradition of young women being provided with a trousseau when they married – so the baby shower was born as the next step with useful gifts being given to the young mother by family and friends.
Today most baby showers are organised by the friends of mum-to-be and are held 4 to 6 weeks before the due date. Very often at this point the parents will know the sex of the baby and so appropriate gifts can be given at the shower party.
Some choose to have a very small celebration for close family and a few friends while others opt for the big “splash” hiring a room, caterers and providing shower party favours for all the guests.
Given the stage of the pregnancy, the expectant mum is usually content to sit and be “showered” while taking part in some sedate games – such as “Guess Mum’s measurements”, “Guess the Baby Food”, “Guess the Baby Items in the Bag”, Baby Bingo – the list is endless.
And as for the gifts – do you buy for mum or baby or both? And then you have the dilemma of whether to buy another present once baby has landed! There is no protocol for baby shower guests but I guess it’s just whatever feels right. It’s often nice to give a pamper gift for the mum-to-be and keep the carefully chosen present for the new born until his or her actual arrival.
But material goodies aside, what really matters and is at the heart of the baby shower party phenomenon is the “shower” of love, support and good wishes for the parents-to-be as they count down to the arrival of their little miracle.