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    Birth Customs

    cIn the past it was considered advisable to have a baby baptised as soon as possible, one of the reasons being that if the child died before it was baptised it would go to limbo. The present generation in the urban areas no loger follows this practice.

    The mother, especially, considers the christening day as a happy occasion: "The christening day is all roses and lights for the child's mother. "With each birth and subsequent christening the family's prosperity and good luck increase and, as it were, a ray of hope lights up the rooms of the house.

    The midwife's assistant used to carry the baby to the church for the christening. Up to some years ago one or more cabs were hired to take the baby's father, brothers and sisters, the godparents, the midwife and her assistant to the church and back home.

    After the christening ceremony a family feast or party took place in the parents' home. Hot chocolate was served at the party, together with oval-shaped almond macaroons covered with white or pink sugar icing specially made for the occasion (biskuttini tal-maghmudija).

    When the christening took place within 24 hours it was believed that a soul was freed from purgatory. So long as the baby remained unbaptised it was not considered to be a Christian, but a "Turk". A pregnant woman was not allowed to go near an unbaptised child, for fear that her foetus might develop some malformation.

    An old woman from Birkikara once told me that an unbaptised child was laid in its cot facing left. After the christening, however, the midwife would put the baby either on its back or facing right.

    Traditionallv children were named after their grandparents on the father's side if it was a boy and on the mother's if a girl. The uncles and aunts were also given preference in choosing babies' names. The godparents are usually married couples, but sometimes it was considtered expedient in the interest of domestic peace to, for example, ask the grandfather on the father's side with the grandmother on the mother's side, or vice-versa.

    Nowadays very little or no attention at all is paid to tradition in choosing a name for a newborn child. In 1575 Bishop Duzina laid down that children should be named after saints and not be given pagan names. Certain saints were much more popular in those days than they are today.

    St Blaise was the protector of children against throat disease. St. Nicholas, like St Valentine in English folklore, was particularly helpful to maidens in their choice of a lover. St. Leonard was especially invoked to protect the inhabitants from Turkish corsairs, while Sts. Cosimo and Damien are still remembered in old exorcism recited during fumigation with burned olive leaves.

    The importance attached to the choice of the child's name was due to the subtle connection existing in the popular mind between the bearer of a name and his destiny. The name was supposed to have a decisive influence on its bearer: it might bring him luck or disaster.

    In the course of centuries the people have also evolved certain well-defined notions concerning heredity of virtues and vices. Certain traits and characteristics may run in particular families: hence the proverb "The bean is the daughter of the bean pod and the family always prevails", ie. the family characteristics are inherited. The parents have a big say in shaping their children's characters and behaviour.

    Various sayings exist to prove this maxim. Thus, "The son of a skilled worker possesses half his father's skill"; "Like trunk, like branch"; "A mare is a woman who runs about and brings up her young like herself'. There are. of course, exceptions to the rule: "Roses will come out of thorns, and thorns out of roses."



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