A baptism is a Christian rite that marks admission into the faith. During a baptism ceremony, a person is doused with water over his or her head to symbolize purification as he or she accepts and enters this new faith. While Judaism has its own ceremonial rite of purification, the term “baptism” isnt used due to its relation with Christianity.

The word “baptism” translates from the Greek to mean “to submerge or immerse.” In broader terms, a baptism can be used to refer to any situation in which a person experiences purification, initiation or a symbolic rebirth.

Early Baptism Ceremonies

The Bible notes the earliest known christening rites to have been performed by John the Baptist and Jesus disciples, not by Jesus himself. In fact, John the Baptist is celebrated as the initiator of the practice as a way, according to the Gospel, to repent and prepare for Christ on earth. Although none of the Biblical accounts of early baptism clearly describes how the rite was performed, they do relate that people were brought to the water where they “came to.”

Many historians believe that early baptisms involved at least a partial submersion in the water. Archaeological findings also support this notion, as many of the artifacts associated with christenings are too small to have fit a completely submerged person. Similarly, ancient paintings tend to depict a person standing in a small basin while water is poured over their heads. While cold, naturally occurring water (from a natural spring, rain runoff, etc.) is considered ideal for a baptismal rite, water in any form or at any temperature is suitable if naturally occurring water cant be found.

Although much of the early traditions associated with baptisms has remained the same over the years, various sects of the Christian faith have nuanced their practice of christening individuals, refined who is eligible to be baptized and have uniquely defined the particular meaning of the ceremony.

Baptisms Today

In general, all Christian sects except those considered to be “low church” (a distinction inaugurated by the Church of England) agree that people of any age, including infants, are eligible to be baptized. Baptists and other low church Christian denominations consider infants to be too young to discern the faith and, therefore, ineligible to partake in a baptism.

Depending on the particular faith, baptisms are performed in one of three ways:

  • affusion, the act of dumping water over a persons head
  • aspersion, the act of dripping water over a persons head
  • submersion, the act of dunking a person completely beneath water.

Regardless of the method used, Christians consider baptisms to be divine acts (rather than a practice of men) in which the Holy Spirit purifies a soul so that it is able to reunite with Christ in heaven once that person dies. Aside from this fact, other meanings and associations that various sects of Christianity invest in baptism include:

  • Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists: baptism as an act of salvation from death, sin and all evil
  • Baptists: baptism as a meaningful ceremony that has no divine power
  • Roman Catholics: baptism as an initiation into the light of God.

All Christian sects identify the priest, deacon or pastor (or someone whom this leader has chosen) to be the only legitimate person to preside over a baptism.

What Happens at a Christening

With the way in which different Christian sects have nuanced the baptism ceremony, its no surprise that each celebration is unique to each particular faith. However, here is a general outline of what takes place before and during a baptism:

  • Before the ceremony, the parents of the infant being baptized (or the adult himself being baptized) choose “Godparents.” Godparents are typically a man and a woman who take on the responsibility of guiding the newly baptized person in his journey of faith.
  • The person to be baptized dresses in a white gown or robe. Note: bringing a towel and change of clothes for the newly baptized is a good idea due to the use of water in this ceremony.
  • During the ceremony, the priest, godparents and person to be baptized (if he is old enough) say a series of prayers. During and after which water is doused on the persons head.
  • After the ceremony, the parents or baptized adult will take home a candle lit from the Easter candle that symbolizes how the baptized person has been reborn in the light of Christ. The baptized person will also receive a certificate to prove he has been baptized.

The formal religious ceremony at the church is generally followed by a festive reception that includes refreshments for the guests and gifts for the newly baptized individual.

Baptism Receptions: Refreshments and Gifts

In general, receptions after the baptism are informal, less extravagant affairs that include appetizers and finger foods, rather than a sit down meal. These receptions typically dont last long, nor do they require much elaborate planning. While you may want to make all of the appetizers yourself, consider hosting a potluck reception in which each guest brings an appetizer.

As for baptism gifts, like bar/bat mitzvahs, they tend to be related to religion, education or money. For those who are not as close to the baptized person, flowers and cards are perfectly acceptable. Also, those who dont attend the ceremony and arent family arent expected to send a baptism gift.