Home» Publications» SLD Newsletter» Newsletter April 2008» Traditions: Welcoming a Baby

Scottish traditions

Welcoming a baby

There were a number of superstitions and beliefs associated with a new baby. For one thing, it was bad luck to call the baby by its name before it was christened. When I was having my own first child, my mother produced the layettes that she had prepared for my brother and me, all neatly labelled 'Baby Clerk'. While some people had their children christened quietly in their own homes, others saw it as a major social occasion and a fine excuse for a party, but the guexsts has a degree of responsibility; according to Walter Gregor in his Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland (1881) 'It would have been regarded as an utter want of respect, and unlucky, not to have partaken of the bread and cheese [at a christening], and not to have put the glass with the whisky to the lips. In doing so there were repeated the words – "Wissin the company's gueede health, an grace an growan to the bairn" (wishing the company's good health and grace and growing to the child).

Often the top layer of the wedding cake was saved for the christening. In some areas it was customary to give a 'Christening Piece' or 'Christening Bit' to the first person you met after your child was christened. This might consist of simply of a biscuit or it could be a large slice of christening cake along with a piece of cheese and a silver coin. A piece of christening cake was believed to be 'dreaming bread' and a young woman would put it under her pillow in the hope of dreaming about her true love. John Jamieson, the famous Scottish lexicographer of the early nineteenth century provides some additional unhygienic detail when he tells us this cake was 'wrapped up in the garment which covers the posteriors of the infant, and afterwards divided among the young people that they may sleep over it'.

On meeting a new baby for the first time, many Scots still put a silver coin in the child's hand. If the child holds on to the coin, he or she will be thrifty and prosperous, but if they let the coin drop, the child will never be rich.

Visit the Dictionary of the Scots Language website for more information on christening bit or any of the Scots words in this article.