The Correct Christening: 1885

Mrs Daffodil joins the entire Empire in congratulating young Princess Charlotte on her christening day. One hopes that the godparents have co-ordinated their present-giving efforts; it is embarrassing for an infant still in the cradle to attempt to return multiple silver mugs engraved with her name at Garrard’s, although one supposes that the young Princess could dispatch a lady-in-waiting to explain about the duplications.

The social niceties of a christening are less well-known in this lax, post-War world than they were in the Golden Age of wealthy and indulgent God-parents, so Mrs Daffodil has provided a summary from an reliable book of etiquette.

Christenings are of a simple or a magnificent description, according to the social position of the parents of the child to be christened. When the parents are in a humble position in life, the christening usually takes place either immediately after the last Lesson at Morning Prayer, or immediately after the last Lesson at Evening Prayer, when a full congregation is present; and the same also when the parents are in a high social position. But very often people of high position have their children christened not on Sundays, but at a specified time, on a particular day, and in the afternoon.

A christening of this description is generally made the occasion of a family gathering after it is over, which takes the form of a tea or dinner, at which members of the families of both mother and father assist, also the godfathers and godmothers, whether relations or friends, or both.

Formerly the number of sponsors was limited. For a boy, two godfathers and one godmother; for a girl, two godmothers and one godfather; but this rule, like many others, has suffered change, and now-a-days children have many more than three sponsors. I know of an instance of a boy with three godfathers and three godmothers, and the same with girls; and two of each, whether the child is a girl or a boy, is of common occurrence.

Royal children have many more, equally they have many more names. Two or three is the usual number, and quite enough I think. A quantity of names may be much in the way of a child in after life, particularly if their position in the world renders them liable to sign many legal documents.

Names are usually chosen by the parents, sometimes by the grandparents, and occasionally a godfather or godmother ask leave to give a special name, which is generally acceded to, always by worldly people, if the sponsors are rich! as it is considered prudent to do so. Many a child has been given a hideous name, in the hope of this civility bringing it future wealth, and has been given it in vain!

On the day, and at the hour fixed for the christening, the parents of the child, the sponsors, and any friends and relations who are invited, appear at the church. The child is always carried into church by the nurse, who, at the proper time, gives the baby to the head sponsor, who, in her turn, places the infant in the clergyman’s arms. After the child is christened, the clergyman gives the baby back to the sponsor, and she places it in the nurse’s arms again.

At some very smart christenings, the guests are presented with copies of the service bound in white vellum, as a souvenir of the event.

Sponsors are expected to give a present to the nurse. There is no fixed rule what the present should be, but it usually takes the form of money, varying from a sovereign to twenty pounds, according to the means and generosity of the donor. Some sponsors give a silk dress, others some article of jewellery, such as a brooch or locket, or watch and chain. The parents also give the nurse a souvenir of the christening, usually money, not less than three pounds, generally five or ten. If the child is a son and heir, or a daughter who is an heiress, the presents given to the nurse, by both parents and sponsors, are of greater value. Grandparents and relations who are not sponsors generally make the nurse a present; and the mother of the child would always give her a new dress and mantle, bonnet and gloves, for the ceremony.

Morning dress for both ladies and gentlemen is the correct attire for christenings. Pretty, light dresses in the summer; velvets and furs in the winter.

As for children’s christening frocks, no rule can be laid down for them, as their make and material must entirely depend upon the poverty or richness of the parents, but the choicest and most costly garment that can be provided is the proper one to have.

In many families christening robes, caps, hoods, and mantles have descended for generations; when this is the case, the children of the eldest son usually wear them.

Some robes are made of white satin or silk or moire, with an over robe of old Bruxelles lace, Rose Point, Mechlin, Malines, Valencienne; others are of satin or silk, with over robes of embroidered Indian muslin; others are of satin or silk, trimmed with lace in large or small quantities, the sleeves being fastened with rosettes, knots or loops of white satin ribbon; simpler ones are of white muslin over silk.

The cloaks are white satin or silk, covered or trimmed with lace, and fastened by wide ribbons in silk or satin; some in the winter are white plush, or brocaded velvet lined with satin, and trimmed with white chenille, swan’s-down, or white marabout feathers; others are of plain or embroidered white cashmere.

A set of christening gown lace. This was meant to protect the anointed places: forehead, hands, breast.

A set of christening gown lace. These were meant to protect the places anointed during the baptismal ritual: forehead, hands, breast.

Caps are of lace, trimmed with narrow white velvet, satin or silk ribbon, with cockades or rosettes, on the right or left, according to whether it is a girl or boy. If lace cannot be afforded, the caps are of embroidered net or muslin, sometimes Indian muslin.

Care must be taken by the godmother to place the child on the clergyman’s left arm, never on his right.

Godfathers and godmothers always present their godchildren with gifts of a more or less valuable description. Gold or silver cups, candlesticks, mugs, gold or silver spoons only, or fork, spoon, and knife in a case, clasp bibles and prayer books, watch and chain (locket and chain, brooches, bracelets, a pearl necklace, or rings, for girls) or money.

Sometimes sponsors make their godchildren a present of a certain sum of money every birthday until they attain the age of twenty-one (should they attain that age and their sponsors live to see it), others give them a sum down, from say five pounds to a hundred. Money is really the best to give, even if the sum is a moderate one.

Whether a ‘tea’ or a dinner follow a christening, one or more christening cakes (according to the number of the guests) must always be provided. Christening cake is not distributed among friends like wedding cake, but a piece is often put carefully in a tin box, and hermetically sealed, and so kept until, if all is well, the child attains the age of seven, when it should be eaten. Cake so kept improves ; indeed it is better than on the day of making ; it keeps perfectly well by this method.

The christening cake of Prince John, 1905

The christening cake of Prince John, 1905

If a dinner follows a christening, it would be of the ordinary kind, the cake being placed on the table at dessert. It should be cut by the mother. Christening cakes vary in size, but they are always covered with iced sugar, and are ornamented according to fancy. Sugar cradles, little cupids, flowers, butterflies, birds, etc., being some of the most favourite devices. Wreaths of silver leaves and fruit are put at the top of the cake, and the name of the child is written in pink sugar round the cake, with the date of birth, month and year.

When christenings take place, whether in summer or winter, it is usual to ornament the tables with flowers in season, and as much fruit as possible, also plenty of bonbons and crackers.

The christening presents presented by the sponsors, relations, and others to the child, are always laid out on a table, with the names of the donors affixed to each, for the benefit of the guests, who view them at the tea, or after the dinner is over.

Etiquette: what to do, and how to do it, Lady Constance Eleanora C. Howard 1885

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Lady Constance is, one fears, slightly mistaken about christening cake’s distribution. In some rural parishes it was the custom that a small christening cake be given to the first person met on the way to church. It was considered especially lucky if the christened child was female and the first person met was male. She is correct that the cake will improve with age. Christening cakes were generally fruit cakes iced with white and silver. Here is a receipt, should any of Mrs Daffodil’s readers have a child ready to be carried to the font.

The following directions are for a superlative cake.

Five pounds of the whitest and finest sifted flour, two pounds of fresh butter, five pounds of currants, a pound and a half of loaf sugar, two grated nutmegs, two drachms of mace and one drachm of cloves both pounded, all separately beaten and sifted; sixteen eggs, yolks and white separate; a pound of bleached almonds, pounded in a marble mortar, with orange-flower water; a pound each of candied citron, orange, and lemon-peel, cut into neat slices. Proceed thus in the manipulation of the above ingredients:—First work the butter with the hand until it has acquired a creamy consistence; then beat into it the sugar during a quarter of an hour. Next whisk the whites of eggs to a froth, which mix with the butter and sugar. Now beat up the yolks during a quarter of an hour, add them to the butter, sugar, and whites, then add the flour by degrees, having previously mixed with it while dry, the nutmeg, mace, and clove powders. Continue beating the whole during three quarters of an hour, and longer if the oven be not ready to receive it. The beating must not be discontinued till the oven is ready. Then mix in lightly the currants, almonds, and candied peels, with the addition of a good glass of sweet Malmsey, or Malaga, and another of French brandy. Having lined a hoop with paper, rub this lining well with butter, fill in the batter and bake the cake in a quick oven, covering the top with paper to prevent it from burning. Ice it when drawn, but let the upper surface be plain, as symbolic ornaments alluding to the ceremony it is intended to celebrate are now considered vulgar.

The Magazine of Domestic Economy, Volume 5 1840

On the occasion of Prince George’s christening, Mrs Daffodil told of an Imperial Russian ceremony.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.





4 thoughts on “The Correct Christening: 1885

  1. Sally and Tom Campbell

    A lovely explanation of god-this-and-that parenthood, but for us, in the main, a delicious defense of fruitcake.Soak that fruity, nutty fellow for, oh, six months, in Harvey’s Bristol Cream and have a Happy Holiday!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s