There are rituals and traditions around the world that scare the socks off anybody that is not involved or aware of the history and cultural aspects surrounding them. Take circumcision, while most western cultures practice this ancient ritual on their newborns without a thought, many people unfamiliar with its historical and biblical context, and now even “clinical” purpose, would balk at the thought of cutting off a small piece of skin attached to a baby boy’s penis shortly after his birth.
What about baptism? Another thing most westerners are familiar with is Baptism. Dunking a baby into water to symbolize its death from a sin life, and rebirth as child of God, is also something that someone unfamiliar with, may see as extremely odd and maybe even spooky.
So, while a baby tradition may seem normal to Jill and Jack, Fernando and Freda may be wondering what the heck these (seemingly normal) people are doing with or to their children. The best way to approach the differences in traditions and rituals around the world concerning children is to learn about them, leaving the judgement behind. Unless a child is being harmed, (and unfortunately in some cases and places, they are), its best to observe and even try to see where there are similarities.
Believe it or not, around this world, even in the most remote places, moms and dads are still simply, moms and dads. They want to protect their children and keep them healthy and happy. These 15 wonderfully wild baby rituals and traditions from around the globe will make that case perfectly.
15 Iceland: Sub-Zero Naps
It’s a fact that Icelanders live longer than many people on the planet. They have an average life span of 82 years, which is ten years longer than the whole world’s average. Maybe this longevity can be attributed to the “cold treatment” shown to babies, making them into tougher adults. Many parents in Iceland leave their babies outside to nap, no matter the weather, and it gets pretty cold in “ICE”-land. Year round strollers can be found on sidewalks, balconies, and in backyards.
This tradition has been held for generations, and many people claim it trains the babies to find the cold rejuvenating. What started as a health initiative when the tuberculosis epidemic hit the nation in the early 20th century, is now done more for the babies comfort, rather than protection. Icelandic parents say that sleeping outside keeps the babies from hearing all the ruckus inside the house and allows them to sleep longer and more peacefully. So if a person spots what seems to be an abandoned stroller, they should not panic. Mommy and daddy are somewhere nearby keeping watch.
14 Spain: El Colacho (Baby Jumping)
Once a year, 60 days after Easter, people in Spain hold an interesting ritual that some folks might find a tad bit wacky. This ritual that dates back to the 17th century, happens during the festival of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Parents bring their babies, born over the last year, and lay them in nice little rows on the street on top of pillows, which is strange in of itself. However, when the guy dressed as the devil shows up and begins jumping over them, things really get wild.
The man representing the devil usually dresses in bright yellow clothing and wears scary and ugly masks, he runs up and down the street scaring everyone and even whipping bystanders! Rumor has it that once this scary dude has jumped over their child, the child is absolved of their sinful life. Basically, the child is “born again”, similar to the Christian baptism. After the jumping is over, the babies are covered in rose petals and carried off by their parents to enjoy the rest of the festival.
13 India: Baby "Roof-Drop"
Brace yourself, this one is a bit unnerving. One ritual that most people in the world might agree is a tad on the loco side is the terrifying baby drop done in some parts of India. This ceremony is typically held at a shrine and babies are taken up 30 to 50 feet high, to the roof of towers and dropped down to be caught (hopefully) in a blanket held by men below. This ritual has gone on for more than 700 years, and despite several efforts to have the event banned it keeps popping back up again.
The scared-senseless babies are taken to the roof by robed priests and shaken before being dropped over the side. Although this ritual seems incredibly dangerous there have never been reports of babies being harmed. Researchers have been unable to pin where this ritual first started although it has reportedly been happening in Hindu and Muslim communities for a very long time.
12 China: Elimination Communication
Want to hear a fairy tale? There once was a baby who was potty trained before they turned one. The end. Here’s the catch, this is not a fairy tale, it’s a true story. Elimination communication is an “ancient Chinese secret” that has been passed down from generation to generation. This tradition holds that babies can be gently trained to use the potty starting as early as a couple months old. Some families begin training their babies as soon as they can hold their heads up. The process is pretty easy: instead of diapers, the babies wear crotch-less pants and parents just hold the baby over the potty and make a certain sound, like a whistle or “uh-uh”.
The process is repeated until the baby “gets it” and leads to much fewer diapers and probably some very happy parents. Although, there has been a recent increase in disposable diaper use in some Chinese communities, many people stick with this proven method. All it requires is a little bit of patience, oh and crotch-less baby pants….
11 Kenya: “Nyonyo!” (Breastfeed Her!)
Here is another real-life fantasy: a land where the babies don’t cry. In many parts of Africa, it might be hard for people to find the babies. Not only are most of them tightly wrapped onto their mother or father’s backs, they are completely covered by blankets and clothing, and rarely make a peep. These babies are so quiet because they are always offered breast milk for any problem. “Nyonyo!” simply means “breastfeed them!” and is the solution for any problem a baby might have.
In a place where baby wearing and co-sleeping is the norm, it is no surprise that most (if not all) babies are breast fed, constantly. Where it is completely normal for a baby to cry in other areas of the world, in Kenya and throughout Africa it is normal for babies NOT to cry, EVER. If a baby cries it means something truly horrible has happened and something must be done immediately to fix it.
10 Brazil: The Princess And The Hiccup
Brazil is known for its beautiful people, especially its women. Just think, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Gisele Bundchen, all hail from different parts of Brazil. Beauty is a very important quality in Brazil, and for women, many might say it is the most important one. So much so, that young girls are taught the importance of being pretty and calm, as all women “should be”, at a very early age. All little girls are referred to as princess or “princesa” and some are even told not to ever cry because it’s “ugly”.
There is such an emphasis on the appearance at a young age that some preschools have “no make-up” rules for the kids! Another quirky thing one might spot while visiting this beautiful and intriguing land is spitballs or spit strings on babies' heads. Don’t dare try to remove them either. Some moms and dads (and often grandmas) place little pieces of paper or string, held in place with saliva, on their babies heads when they get the hiccups, as a cure.
9 Italy: “Sensa Malocchio” (Without The Evil Eye)
Italy is known for its beautiful sights, delicious food, and vibrant people. It’s also widely known that Italians are very superstitious. They are careful about nearly every aspect of life, especially their babies. Moms are particularly watchful over their babies, as would be the case with any new mom, but Italian moms are especially wary of compliments made to or about the baby. This seemingly odd caution is paid because of people intentionally or unintentionally casting the evil eye around the baby.
It’s simple to cast the evil eye, one only has to make a compliment while feeling envious or jealous. So the best way to give a compliment to the new mom or baby is to include “sense malocchio” which means “without the evil eye”. New mommies also make the fig sign, which is similar to the letter “t” in sign language, after compliments to further ward off the evil eye. They may also carry amethyst or three chunks of rock salt wrapped in aluminum foil in their pocket for protection.
8 Bulgaria: Chicken Droppings And The Spit Scoop
Bulgarians have long held the belief that good things should be kept hidden otherwise someone else will see it, become jealous, and steal it. It is believed that this long held assumption comes from the time when Bulgarians were under the control of the Ottoman. During their control, it is said that the Ottoman stole all the beautiful Bulgarian girls and made them wives in their harems, as well as all the strong and handsome Bulgarian boys. The boys were then converted to Islam, made to forget their families, trained relentlessly and finally became the top members of the sultan’s army.
So, it’s no surprise some Bulgarians keep their guards up still to this day about their babies. While the Ottomans are no longer a threat, the devil is still constantly on the prowl looking for things of beauty and value to steal. So, in an effort to deceive the devil, they (pretend to) spit on babies and shout “may the chicken’s poop on you!” Well, that’s one way to make something seem unimportant!
7 Australia: Muslin, Vegemite, And The Great Down Under
Australians have lots of reasons to brag, they have beautiful sights and a rich culture. They also have some interesting ways with their tiny tots. American folks normally do not submerge their babies in water until the umbilical cord falls off. Australians, however, dunk their babies into water almost as soon as they are born. Another difference is the way they wrap their babies up. Most American people swaddle their babies in warm blankets, and keep their babies in warm onesies and hats while the “cool cats” down under prefer things a little more chill.
Australia is a pretty hot place to live and many families use muslin, a soft light weight, breathable fabric (kind of like gauze) to wrap up their babies. Also, forget the regular display of baby food jars, someone would see in any old supermarket in the US, in Aussie they keep the Vegemite stacked. Vegemite is a black yeast based paste that is fed to infants and small children. Anybody unfamiliar with it would probably find it looks gross, but rumor has it, it’s quite delicious and very healthy!
6 Ireland: Everybody's Gettin’ Tipsy
Wedding cakes are traditional in most parts of the world but leave it to the Irish to add in the whisky. Whiskey cakes are often given at Irish weddings because they symbolize fertility. In addition, just like most Americans save the top tier of their wedding cake to eat on a special occasion (like their one year anniversary or the birth of their first child), Irish couples save the top tier of their whiskey cake to eat after the birth of their first child.
The parents take the crumbs left over from the cake and sprinkle them on the baby’s head. Also don’t be surprised if they pour a little champagne on the little tykes head, too! Some Irish couples also save a bottle of champagne from their wedding just for this purpose. These traditions have been handed down for generations and are thought to come from Roman Catholicism and Irish cultural customs.
5 Finland: Boxy Babes
Babies in Finland receive everything they need before leaving the hospital and it's all packaged perfectly in a neat little box. The boxes usually contain body suits, diapers, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing supplies, and nappies. This box is provided by the government to all new mothers and get this: the babies can sleep in it, too! It also comes with a tiny mattress and bedding! This very cool swag bag (box) came to be after the Finnish infant mortality rate spiked in the 1930s and 40s, and it has been credited with the incredibly quick drop in the rate.
Finland’s infant mortality rate went from 65 per every 1000 babies in born in 1938 to 3 deaths per every 1000 births in 2010. This box originally came with fabric in the early 40s because women made their baby clothes during that time and transitioned to ready-made clothing in the 50s. This box is also one of the reasons Finland is one of the top places in the world for women to have a child. It appears this trend is catching because some hospitals in San Antonio, Texas and even a few in cities in and about New Jersey are adopting the this baby box system.
4 Greece: Honey, Night Laundry, And Mirrors
What’s not to love about Greece? There is just so much to see and do in this gorgeous country. It has thousands of islands throughout the Aegean and Ionian Sea with party beaches and some even have black sand. Greece is also known by many in the world as the cradle of the western civilization. The moms in Greece are spectacular, too. Similar to the superstitious nature of Italian mothers, Grecian mommas have an uncanny cautious nature when it comes to their babies. Mothers in Greece are warned not to wash their baby’s clothes and leave them to line dry at night because evil can get into the clothes.
They are also told not to let their babies see their own reflections in the mirror until after they are Christened. One super sweet aspect of a rich historical culture and one that is also widely frowned on elsewhere in the world has to do with honey. In the United States (and many other places) doctors warn to never give babies honey because of the possibility of the infant contracting and developing a form of infant botulism, yikes! However, many Greek people greet babies with a spoonful of honey upon entering their homes. They do this to wish the baby a sweet, happy, healthy life. One person’s trash….is another’s treasure.
3 China: “Zuomanyue” (Granny’s Animal Bread)
Many generations of Chinese people have passed down many beautiful traditions and rituals concerning pregnant women and their babies. They are also very serious when it comes to the necessity of peace for a woman carrying a child. The Hakka villages in China definitely fit this mold, for some women it is forbidden to move while they are pregnant, it is also forbidden to move furniture around a pregnant woman, and sometimes they will not even keep moving things in a pregnant woman’s room (like a clock).
One touching ceremony happens one month after the birth of a new baby. The maternal grandmother will steam pieces of bread shaped like small animals and feed them to the baby. This ritual is called Zuomanyue, and is the grandmother’s way of wishing the child a long life. This tradition has been passed down for several generations.
2 Sudan: Placental Placement
Sudan is the largest country in Africa, although not many people visit there do to internal conflict and other challenging situations. Right now, Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis concerning food and famine, along with increasing violence and millions of displaced persons. Contrary to the deeply concerning environment most Sudanese people are facing today, there is a rich cultural history with some beautiful and long held traditions. When a baby is born in Sudan, some communities take the placenta away from the mother and bury it.
Unlike other cultures which bury placentas believing it to be a sibling of the newborn, Sudanese tradition holds that the placenta is a spiritual counterpart to the baby and should be buried somewhere important to the baby. Some parents bury the placenta near a hospital in the hopes the child will grow up to be a doctor.
1 Japan: Miyamairi (Shrine Visit)
When Japanese babies are one month old, some of them get to participate in a very important ceremony, although the baby probably doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. The baby is carried by his or her grandmother or mother to a Shinto shrine. This traditional ritual is known as “Miyamairi” or shrine visit. The purpose is to thank and show respect to the deities. The baby is typically clothed in special white clothing and sometimes members of the family wear kimonos.
The ritual is usually about 5 minutes and a Shinto priest prays over the baby for health and happiness. After the prayer the parents and grandparents approach the shrine and bow, and make an offering. This offering is called a “tamagushi”, which is a sakaki tree branch decorated with paper, silk, or cotton. The ritual ends with a sip of rice wine from a red wooden cup.
Sources: Huffingtonpost.com, BBC.co.uk, EOS.Kokugakunun.ac.jp, BabyCenter.com, HFBooks.com, Slate.com