Christening gowns are beautifully crafted dresses that can be worn by either boys or girls on their baptism day. These lovely gowns bring due attention to babies on their special day and that’s just how it’s supposed to be on days such as this for a baby.
Beyond the beauty of christening gowns for boys or girls there is symbolism and history that surrounds the significance of christening and baptism clothing.
Symbolism and History of Christening Gowns
Historically, christening gowns were not always worn as part of a Christian baptism ceremony. The wearing of a gown for a baptism is something that evolved from swaddling bands that were used to swaddle babies. In Christianity the best-known story of swaddling bands usage is when Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, gave birth. “And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes…” (Luke 2:7).
In the days of Jesus, when a couple (like Joseph and Mary) married they would tie bands (cloth or fabric) around their clasped right hands. This tying of clasped hands together, during a marriage ceremony, brought about the saying “they tied the knot.”
When a married couple had a baby together, they would swaddle their new born baby in the same bands used during their marriage ceremony. Often times these swaddling bands would have symbols embroidered on them such as a lion, a lamb, or a tree of life. Because of Mary’s royal ancestry Jesus’s swaddling bands may have been blue and white as they are royal colors. Mary would have had the right to use these colors as a descendent of King David.
These swaddling bands are what infants wore and naturally what they would have been baptized in. There is evidence that swaddling bands were used for baptism up until the 15th century. Then sometime after this time period baptism clothing began to evolve.
The Evolution of Swaddling Bands to Christening Gowns
The catalyst for the evolution of baptism clothing came about because of the full immersion of infants. Because infants were being fully immersed into holy water it became important to unclothe infants for baptism and then replace their clothing quickly over their swaddling bands. In essence this was important because of the health of the baby – parents did not want their infant babies to get cold and as a result get sick. During this time period (the 17th century) churches were not heated and could be very cold in the middle of winter.
A century later (the 18th century) the practice of full immersion for infant baptism was done away with, so it became unnecessary to undress an infant for baptism. In addition, swaddling bands were viewed to be unhealthy for babies and as a result their use ceased. In the wake of these two things, christening clothing began to change to match the style of the 18th century – a Victorian christening gown style. Since this time christening gowns have evolved to match styles of the time periods in which people lived in as well as their cultural tastes. For example, in Ireland it is not uncommon to find christening outfits with shamrocks embordered on them. Also, Italian styled christening gowns may have Italian Lace on the bodice and hem of the gown.
Today almost all christening gowns are white or a shade of white. White represents purity that comes when baptized – a renewal of innocence. In modern times boys are not always dressed in gowns, but dressed in baptism outfits for boys. Also, many gowns or outfits today may have light blue or pink ribbon.
What’s important though is what a christening gown represents. Religiously speaking, in the days of Jesus swaddling bands could be seen as representing the commitment that a married couple had for each other and as a result of their commitment they conceived a child and wrapped him or her in swaddling bands. While wearing these symbolic swaddling bands, children were often baptized and received a renewal of innocence.
Along with what baptism represents, parents of infants want their child’s baptism day to be special and a beautiful white special occasion dress like the christening gown is an outward expression of that desire.