Though the terms Christening and baptism are often used interchangeably in conversation, the two event are remarkably different. To put it simply, a Christening is a naming event while a baptism is one of the seven sacraments. Christenings are often restricted to infants while any individual of any age may be baptized. Though the two ceremonies are often performed together, they are different in both name and meaning. The way the ceremonies are performed are also quite different, with the use of water and the participation of the family members being two of the key differences.

Christening

At its core, a Christening is a naming ceremony. It is the time when the parents give their baby a Christian name and pledge that they will raise their child in a Christian manner. Christening is a rededication of the parents’ commitment to the church as well as a welcoming ceremony for the child. It is sometimes the first formal appearance of the child in the Church, offering members of the Church the opportunity to celebrate the birth of the baby and to welcome them into the religion. The Christening ceremony is an affirmation of the family’s commitment to the church and of the church’s commitment to the family, rather than an acceptance of God on a personal level.

In addition to being a family-focused event rather than an individual rite, Christenings are typically age-restricted. They are not performed on adults and are usually only performed on infants. This is a major distinguishing factor between Christenings and Baptisms, which can be performed on people of any age.

Baptism

Baptism is one of the seven sacraments and is typically the first sacrament an individual will experience on their lifelong journey to becoming closer to God. Sacraments as a whole are sacred events and are steeped with meaning. Modern baptisms are based on the Biblical event when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. It is during the baptism ceremony when an individual will first experience God’s saving presence. Some faiths believe that baptism is a requirement for salvation and that it marks the beginning of one’s faithful life.

During a baptism, the individual being baptized must accept God. Their sins are then forgiven as they are adopted as a son or daughter of God. The baptism ceremony is usually the first of the seven sacraments an individual will experience and it is typically a very joyous occasion that is shared with family members as well as the entire membership of the Church. During a baptism, the individual being baptized grows closer to God. You can be baptized at any age and while parents will participate in the baptism of a child, the focus of the occasion is on the individual and their acceptance of God. It is usually a more serious ceremony than a Christening and various individuals agree at the time of the baptism to assist in guiding the person being baptized closer to God.

Ceremony

Christening and baptism ceremonies are very different. During a Christening, the focus is on the family unit. Because Christenings are reserved for infants, the parents play an integral role, speaking on behalf of the baby that is being Christened. The way the ceremony is performed varies widely from one church to another, but all are family-focused and community-oriented. Christenings typically take place in front of the entire church and are mainly verbal in nature.

For a baptism, a body of water is required. This may be a lake, a pond, a river or a font. One person is baptized at a time, though some churches will baptize people in succession as part of a baptism event. During the ceremony, the individual is either submerged in the water (baptism by immersion) or water may be poured (baptism by affusion) or sprinkled (baptism by aspersion) over their head. This act signifies the cleansing of the individual and the physical washing away of sin. Baptisms can be done on infants with the assistance of the parents, though some churches believe that an individual cannot be Baptized without consent. In those cases, baptism is not performed until the child is old enough to understand what they are agreeing to and to willingly accept God.

A celebratory reception often follows both Christenings and baptisms. These celebrations offer a chance for friends and family to rejoice in the addition of a new member to the church and to reaffirm their kinship and commitments to one another. The celebration that follows a Christening or baptism is often just as important to families as the ceremonies themselves.

While the terms baptism and Christening may be used interchangeable by many individuals, it’s clear that the two ceremonies are different. By understanding make makes each unique, you can use the correct term in conversation and help educate others on these special events. For Christians, Christenings and baptisms are both milestones that are worthy of celebration. Visit Matthew F. Sheehan to find Christening and baptism keepsakes and other items to make the most of these auspicious occasions.