How are new babies celebrated around the world?

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1. A new baby

A new birth is usually a time of great celebration, with babies welcomed into the world in all manner of ways.

Royal births are not the only ones to be surrounded by pomp and ceremony. Customs, rituals and traditions in other cultures – many of which are religious in origin – play an important role before, during and after a birth.

So how do families from around the world celebrate the arrival of a new baby, and is there anything to be learnt from other cultures?

2. Head shaving

The heads of newborn babies are shaved for a variety of reasons in a number of different cultures.

Hindus believe it removes any bad luck from a previous life while Buddhist monks hold a ‘fire hair shaving’ purification ceremony exactly one month and one day after birth.

Muslims perform a ritual known as Aqiqah seven days after a birth to show that the child is a servant of Allah. The cut hair is weighed and the equivalent amount in silver or gold is donated to the poor.

Malay women wash their newly shaved baby's scalps in a bath of fresh kaffir limes. The way in which pieces of lime fall into the bath water are said to indicate a child's behaviour in later life.

3. Fire and smoke

In parts of Asia and Africa people believe that heat and smoke play a vital role in healing the mother and protecting a new life.

Thai women undergo a ritual known as jufaj which involves spending an odd number of days (usually 11) lying next to a fire, which is thought to heal the uterus and scare away evil spirits.

Cambodian women are so convinced of the benefits of heat that they light a small fire beneath their beds for three days, or up to a week if it’s their first child.

Malaysian mums undergo a 44-day period of confinement, known as a pantang, to help regain their health and figure. During this time they sit by fires, apply hot stones and oils to their bodies and bind their abdomens using a traditional technique called bengkung.

Aboriginal women actually smoke their babies, placing them into smoking pits of green foliage gathered from the emu bush. The ritual lasts seconds – just long enough for the babies to inhale some smoke – which is believed to make them healthier and stronger.

Smoke is also used in Yemeni culture at baby blessings where frankincense is used to cleanse, purify and ward off evil spirits. In parts of Asia and Africa women squat over smoky fires after birth, in order to heal and purify themselves and ward off evil spirits.

4. Bizarre rituals

In the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated with El Colacho, an annual baby-jumping festival.

Babies born within the past 12 months are blessed and placed on mattresses in the street while jumpers dressed as devils leap over them, cleansing the children of original sin and ensuring they have a safe passage through life.

In India newborn babies have been dropped off the Sri Santeswar temple for hundreds of years. They are caught in sheets 50 feet below while crowds of onlookers sing and dance. The ritual is believed to bring health, prosperity and luck to new arrivals, and around 200 babies are dropped every year.

In Japan new babies take part in Nakizumo, a 400-year-old baby-crying festival in which babies face off against one another in the ring. The child that cries first is deemed the winner in the belief that crying babies are healthier and will grow quicker.

5. Umbilical cords

In most Western countries the umbilical cord is clamped and cut within minutes of birth, but some cultures treat it with far more reverence.

In Brunei it is wrapped in a white sheet and a male relative buries it near a flowering plant or tree.

A similar tradition exists in Jamaica where the cord is buried and a tree is planted on top, marking the beginning of a child's life.

Japanese mothers are presented with their child’s umbilical cord in a small wooden box (kotobuki bako) when they leave hospital. It serves as a memento of the birth and something to be cherished throughout their life.

In Turkey the cord is believed to influence a child’s future employment prospects. It's believed that the child will be devout if its cord is buried near a mosque, an animal lover if it’s buried in a stable, a scholar if it’s thrown into a school garden or completely left to chance if thrown into water.

6. Naming ceremonies

New parents can spend weeks agonising over baby names, but in cultures with strict naming conventions it can be even trickier.

In the Kingdom of Bhutan babies are named three days after birth by the local lama (priest). Surnames don't exist and all first names tend to be unisex with a religious connotation. With limited names to choose from, children often end up with exactly the same names, so nicknames are common.

On the seventh night in Japan, babies are dressed in white to take part in an intimate naming ceremony known as Oshichiya. Their new name – often the same as a grandparent's – is written down in Japanese calligraphy and takes pride of place within the family home.

In the Hadith, or teaching of The Prophet, Muslims are advised to name their children within seven days of their birth. Choosing a name is also often done based on the advice of the Hadith, which say that a child should be given a ‘good meaningful name, nothing offensive, but something that is lovely and has a good meaning.'

7. Mix and match

Can you match the following items used in newborn baby ceremonies to their religions?

Red eggs

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Red eggs

Taoism

In Chinese folk religion, dyed red eggs symbolising fertility and good luck are given to guests to eat during the baby naming ceremony.

Bracelets

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Bracelets

Buddhism

In Cambodia, where Buddhism is the main religion, red string is tied around babies' arms to prevent their past life mothers from revisiting them.

Honey

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Honey

Hinduism

In Hinduism, a Jatakarma is performed to welcome the child into the family. Honey is put in the child's mouth and the name of God whispered in its ear.