Birth and baptism and the tradition of naming

Tradition around birth

In Hungary, the tradition of birth was of great importance in the past. The woman in a blessed state was carefully prepared for the arrival of the newborn. When the time came and the prophetic contractions appeared, the midwife was called to help bring the child into the world. Typically, the mother of the daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law were present at the birth, with the men absent from the process. To ease the pain, the mother was given brandy to drink and walked as long as possible. According to folklore, the child’s first bath water also had an effect; if it was put in cold, steaming water, it was said to predict a healthy, long life. Money thrown into the water promised material prosperity, flowers beauty. After the baby was born, the new mother would lie in her bed for up to six weeks. During this time, close relatives brought food for the family. When the cot time was over, this was followed by a ceremony, the initiation of the mother in church. At this time the bed, which was covered with a curtain, was taken apart.

In later years, deaths from puerperal fever became very common. It was Ignác Philip Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, who took the matter to heart and found a solution to this serious problem. He realised that doctors not disinfecting their hands was the cause of the infection, so he introduced hand washing with chlorine water.

Tradition of naming

When it came to naming, it was a tradition that went on for many years, and perhaps even today there are some traditional families where the first-born son is named after the father or grandfather on the paternal side, while for girls this was not taken so strictly, but it was common in this part of the country to name them after the mother and then the maternal grandmother. Examples of ancient Hungarian names include Álmos, Hunor, Kende, Kincső, Emese, Villő. Examples of the names most common in the 18th and 20th centuries are János, László, József, Mária, Éva, Erzsébet.

The baptismal names are

The baptism was often timed for a few days after the birth of the child, but nowadays it can be delayed until the child is several years old. The godparents were usually good friends of the parents who were already married, thus strengthening the friendship and typically being godparents of each other’s children. In those days the godmother dressed the child and took him to church with the midwife. According to popular beliefs, the baptism was also held within a few days because they did not want the child to be cursed. Once the baptism had taken place, a feast was held, to which the relatives and close neighbours were invited. Festive food was prepared, and gifts could be placed on the table, mostly money, but in some places livestock was also donated. The midwife also played an important role at the feast, it was believed that if she was given plenty of food, the child would not go hungry.

Eszter Stumpf

Image: Godmother brings the gift to the christening
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