Pregnant and getting ready to organize your baby shower? Have you ever actually wondered how baby showers even came about? The term “baby shower” does sound rather contemporary and novel and whilst many believe it to be a 20th century thing, its roots, in reality, are centuries old.
Pregnancy: Rituals and Ceremonies
For centuries, amongst many of the world’s cultures, pregnancy was seen as bearing huge importance; the entering of motherhood and the brining of a new life into the world. Fertility rituals birth and the cycles of life and death have always been very heavily interlinked. Pregnancy was entirely baffling as ancient cultures did not equate the act of sex with reproduction. It was, to them, something more obscure simply because not every act of sexual intercourse led to pregnancy. The ancient Egyptians celebrated birth as did the Greeks.
The Dark Ages Baby Showers
The middle ages where somewhat darker as the Christian church has established itself as a powerful and influential institution. Child birth was not only a huge risk but also of spiritual peril. The baby shower was essentially the sacrament of baptism. The mother was not allowed to attend the baptism of her own genetic child as she was confined to isolation for 40 days. The godparents of the child would care for the new born, “showering” silver gifts and other presents. Many parents appointed several godparents in order to have more presents for their child.
Baby Showers during the Renaissance
A movement that lasted hundreds of years, the renaissance also brought with it a revival and new meaning to “baby showers”. The celebrations were huge, lavish and lasting days. Multiple birth objects would be given for the baby including jewelry, jars, clothes, toys and sculptures. The religious significance would not go amiss as the mother would be surrounded with iconographic images of the Virgin Mary, inspiring her to fulfill her role as mother.
The Victorians were the ones who really fine-tuned and altered the whole notion of baby shower into the Anglo-Saxon tradition it is associated with today, the difference being that expectant mothers would keep their pregnancy hidden for as long as possible by remaining indoors. Once the child was born, parties and tea parties with abundant food and present-giving ensued. Till today, Victorian baby shower invitations are still very much in vogue.
Of course, these rituals have evolved in such a way as to suit modern cultures, needs and beliefs.
The Post War Celebrations
The move towards consumerism started after World War II when poverty was still rampant. In order to get as many gifts for the unborn baby as possible, baby showers evolved into very generous gift-giving parties which essentially catered the household of the mom-to-be with everything she needed thus, reducing the expenses of child care. Seating the mother on a chair and watching her unwrap her gifts also began in this period. Some feminist critics view the tradition of baby showers as stifling the freedom of women, indoctrinating them into their gender specific role as mother and even gone as far as describing them as “infantilizing”.
Baby Showers today
Baby showers have not really changed much in the past few decades since the early post way world. Of course today we have the addition of technology, the emailing of invitations and celebrations at the work place as the women today play a significant role in the workforce of the developed world. To be added that many baby showers also have male invitees. The gifts are also not always specifically targeted at the baby but many times close friends of the mother actually hand presents specifically for the mother-to-be. Some mothers also decide to have a gender predictor test and announce the sex of the baby before the baby shower is help whilst others opt out of this, and choose to have guessing games as part of the party.
Elena Bianchi writes about various topics and regularly contributes to blogs and info sites. Topics of particular interest include DNA testing, baby gender tests and prenatal paternity testing. Many of the author’s articles can be found online.