Baptism and Christening Etiquette

CelebrationsEtiquette & AdviceCelebration EtiquetteByDebby Mayne Debby MayneDebby Mayne is an etiquette expert and writer with 25-plus years of writing experience. She covers professional, social, children's, wedding, and funeral etiquette for many publications, including South Florida Parent, Seattle's Child, Tampa Bay Parent Magazine, and Atlanta Parent. Her education in the etiquette arts began during her childhood. Growing up in the South—a region known for its hospitality—she attended etiquette and charm classes in her youth.Learn more about The Spruce'sEditorial ProcessUpdated on 04/07/21

Do you have a child who will soon be baptized or christened, or are you attending such a service? This is a special time in the lives of everyone involved, including all the family members and friends who attend. Everyone needs to understand the significance of this event and know how to act.

Any person of any age can be baptized or christened, though the occasion is usually associated more with babies or very young children. And, although the two terms are interchangeable, there's a very subtle difference between the two types of events. The baptism is part of the ceremony representing one of seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, while the christening is the naming part of the ceremony. The traditional way of referring to this celebration is that a child is baptized during a christening service, and according to the Catholic Church, you can't exclude the baptizing portion. It's also important to note that this service is typically practiced by Christians, but many religions offer the ceremony.

Although this is a time of celebration, proper etiquette is essential to honor the sacrament. Whether you are the host family or the guest of a baptism, christening, or dedication of a child to God, you should know that this is an important day that should be treated with proper respect. Following certain guidelines can prevent embarrassment or offense.

Since each church is different, the clergy or other person leading the ceremony will most likely guide you through the process and may even discuss what to expect in advance. However, there are still some basic guidelines you need to follow, geared toward the baptism or christening of a baby or younger child.

Host Family

As soon as you know that you want your child to be dedicated to God, contact the church office. You'll need to provide information such as the date of birth, the child's name, the names of the parents, and the names of godparents or sponsors. Each church may ask for additional data, according to their customs. Let the pastor or administrative person know how many people you expect to be present so arrangements can be made if necessary. This may involve seating during the church service and who will stand with the child during the baptism.

Baptism and Christening Etiquette

Most churches allow and even encourage guests to attend the ceremony. You may extend formal, email, or verbal invitations. It's always a good idea to provide instructions to anyone who is not familiar with your church's customs, and be willing to answer questions. You may consider some of the ritual to be common sense or routine, but to someone who has never been to your place of worship, it may all seem foreign. Giving them a few tips can prevent an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation.

Don't be late. In fact, it's a good idea for the family of the child about to be baptized or christened to arrive at the church a few minutes early so everyone can sit together. In some cases, the church will have reserved seating, so discuss this with the clergy member in advance.

Guests

Baptism, christening, and dedication ceremonies serve as an introduction of the child to the church and follow the sacraments as ordered by God. This is a solemn but joyous occasion that follows the church's customs, so make sure you understand what is expected of you.

You may receive an invitation in any number of formats. A formal invitation will often ask for you to RSVP. Even if you are invited by phone, let the host family know whether or not you will be there. They need to know how many people will be sitting with them during the church service or mass.

Since churches vary in style and formality, play it safe and dress conservatively. Suits, knee-length or longer dresses, and nice slacks with blazers are all good options. If the host family states that the church is come-as-you-are, this generally means that it is very informal. You may still dress nicely, but if you want to be more casual, ask the host for more specifics.

Children

Many babies who are baptized or christened wear christening gowns or an heirloom outfit that has been passed down through the generations and means something special to the family. In order to keep it nice, it's a good idea to wait until right before the church service to put it on the baby and then take it off immediately afterward.

Older children being baptized or christened should dress in their Sunday best for the occasion. They will be the center of attention, so give them some etiquette instruction beforehand. When children know what is expected of them in advance, they are more likely to behave.

Christening Gifts

Although many people choose to purchase a gift for the child, it isn't necessary, particularly if you have already given something to the child at a shower or during a visit. However, if this is something you would like to do, make it something the child can keep for many years. If you want to give a Bible, check with the parents first to make sure the child doesn't already have one. You can't go wrong with traditional silver items, such as an engraved silver spoon, cup, or photo frame.

The host family may choose to give something to the godparents. This doesn't need to be expensive, but it should be special and specific to the relationship. An embossed or engraved photo album is something that will help maintain memories of the occasion.

Although many pastors and priests don't expect a gift, a financial contribution to the church is always appreciated. You can leave it in the collection plate with a note or discreetly give it to the pastor immediately following the ceremony.

Reception

After the baptism or christening, most host parents will have a reception, often at their home. This doesn't have to be a sit-down meal. Coffee, juice, fruit, and other finger foods are acceptable. The main purpose is to celebrate the child's special day.

Unable to Attend

If you cannot attend the baptism or christening for any reason, offer your regrets as early as possible. It is still good form to send a gift to honor this special occasion.