Céad Míle Fáilte – literally meaning “one-thousand welcomes” in Gaelic, seems a perfect way to welcome your little one into the world. Judah has a pretty diverse heritage, with Japanese, Irish, Jewish, Russian, German and English backgrounds and we celebrate and honor each, including his Irish roots. We can’t wait for his first St. Patrick’s Day next week, when no matter your heritage, everyone’s a wee bit Irish!
The Irish are famously superstitious: there’s a blessing and proverb for just about everything – pregnancy, new mothers and babies are no exception! To get in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, here are seven neat Irish baby traditions.
Irish Baby Name Traditions
Typically, Irish babies are named for relatives in their family. There can be complicated naming patterns based on whether it’s a boy or a girl, and whether they’re first, second, third, etc., and after whom on what parents side they’re named. While Judah doesn’t have a traditionally Irish name, his Hebrew name, Yosef, is named for his paternal grandfather (Joseph). We didn’t stick to a hard and fast Irish naming tradition, but it was important that we include some of our family heritage into his name, invoking the spirit of the Irish tradition.
The “Magic” Irish Handkerchief
This is one of my favorite Irish baby traditions. Irish brides are given a special white handkerchief to carry on their wedding day. With just a couple of stitches, it can be turned into a baby’s bonnet, traditionally reserved for their Christening. My mom gave me mine for my wedding day six years ago. Since Judah is Jewish, I had planned to save it for his bris, but when he told us “Céad Míle Fáilte” five weeks early and out-of-state no less, it was left in my box of wedding memorabilia. I’m hoping that for his upcoming first birthday, I can find a way to incorporate this special handkerchief; I’m thinking of perhaps seeing if I can turn it into a teething bib. We’ll see!
Irish Whiskey Cake
The Irish Whiskey Cake is a tradition that is first associated with Irish weddings. The newlywed couple would save the top tier of their wedding cake not for their first anniversary, as is what many couples do; rather, they’d save the top of their wedding cake for their first child’s Christening! How do you make a cake last that long? Whiskey. (A lot of whiskey.) This Irish baby tradition is definitely for the parents and not the baby! You can make your own Irish Whiskey Cake (again, for the grownups) with this recipe here.
“Wetting” the Baby’s Head
Another Irish baby tradition for the parents: upon baby’s arrival, the new father and his friends would toast to his newborn’s good health and a lifetime of happiness. (again, traditionally with whiskey). When Judah was born, Larry was on a flight over the Pacific; about two hours after the birth, he was actually able to call me from the plane to find out how it things went (the plane had an old pay-by-credit card satellite phone). Once he got word that mama and baby were fine, the flight attendants gave him a round of applause and a free glass of champagne! When Larry was finally able to get to the hospital, he had just so happened to bring back a bottle of Japanese whisky, so that night, we all had a lovely toast to Judah’s good health and happiness in my hospital room!
The Silver Coin
For most Irish babies, Christenings are a major milestone of their newborn life, so that’s why so many traditions are associated with it. One Irish baby tradition is for parents to put a silver coin in their baby’s hand to hold during the Christening. This ensures a prosperous life. This is very similar to an Irish tradition that Larry and I have done everywhere we’ve lived: placing pennies over the door to the home to ensure that money always walks in, and never back out.
The Red String
The Irish are very superstitious about fairies (sometimes called fae or faeries). These aren’t your Tinker Bell type of fairies; Irish faeries are often seen as mischievous tricksters who’ve been known to swap babies from their cribs with changelings. They’re send to whisk newborns off to the Land of the Fae to raise as their own. To protect new babies from this fate, some Irish mothers will tie a red ribbon to their baby’s cradle until their baby’s first birthday to ward off the fae. Some mothers even sew a few stitches of red thread into every article of baby’s clothing!
Irish Baby Blessing
The Irish are never at a loss for blessings and clever sayings. There are many wonderful Irish blessings for every stage and celebration in life, and a new baby is probably one of the most celebrated in Irish families. While there are several Irish blessings for new babies, this one’s my favorite:
May strong arms hold you,
Caring hearts tend you,
And may love await you at every step.
Wishing all of you and your little ones a very lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!