We just love our bambini! Babies in Italian Culture

Written by Gemma Screnci

Family (c. 1995) Fernando Botero
Family (c. 1995) Fernando Botero
“Congratulations! What a beautiful baby, he looks just like our side of the family!” For Italians, the arrival of a new baby is an important milestone surrounded by all sorts of customs, often tied to the many expectations from both sides of the family. Along with pregnancy and with the choice of a child’s name come many fascinating traditions. Let’s explore some of the most common ones.

In Italian culture, having a baby is a natural step that is strongly encouraged by the entire family, especially after a young couple gets married. Of course, everybody wishes for a healthy baby, the chubbier the better, but for some more traditional Italians, there is still a strong desire to welcome a baby boy into the clan in order to ensure the legacy of their family name. In fact, some Italian families have been known to be extra generous when money and gifts are concerned if a mother gives birth to a baby boy.

That said, Italians are nonetheless thrilled if blessed with a baby girl, because they grow up to be women that take care of their loved ones, and very often, of their elderly parents. The expression that says that girls are “Il bastone della vecchiaia”, which literally means that girls are the “walking stick of old age,” reflects this reality.

This is still very much true today. Many Italian families welcome their nonna or nonno into their house when the respective spouse passes away. Since Italians are family-oriented, this occurrence is quite common and natural.

Traditionally, when a baby was born, families would hang a coloured bow on their door announcing the sex of their baby. Neighbours and paeasani were invited to visit and congratulate the family. Those who had the means would also bring a little token.

Other traditions based on odd superstitions surrounding the birth of a child were also practiced in Southern Italy. For instance, it was believed that a child needed to stay indoors for 40 days following its birth in order to be protected from illness and “malocchio.”

Another common practice was to wrap the baby from his feet to his torso in a fascia, basically a long piece of fabric, a bit like a little mummy, or a baby Russian babushka. It was believed that by doing so the baby would grow up to have straight limbs.

In war times, another common occurrence was that if a mother did not have enough milk to feed her newborn baby, she would ask another woman who was able to produce more milk to breastfeed her child. Back then, formula and milk were scarce and practically impossible to find, therefore, people went out of their way to help each other.

Historically, the names given to Italian children were influenced by deeprooted family traditions that could even lead to feuds and arguments if they were not utterly respected. This explains why, especially amongst large families, you may find five cousins named Maria or Giuseppe…

According to conventions, the first born male is to be named after his paternal grandfather and the first born female is to be named after her paternal grandmother. If another set of children are born, they then take on the names of their maternal nonni.

Some names are also chosen based on the date of birth and specific Saint Days. For instance, some babies born on June 24 are named Giovanni in homage to San Giovanni Battista. In my family, for example, my grandfather was supposed to be named Vincenzo in honour of his paternal grandfather, but since he was born on Christmas Day, which is a significant religious holiday for Catholics, he was named Natale instead.

Another popular option is for parents to name their baby in honour of one of their godparents, since compari have a special role to play in the child’s life. While some of these customs are still found nowadays, times have certainly changed. Baby names have become less traditional, but welcoming a baby remains for Italians one of the most joyful occasions to be celebrated. It is no surprise for a culture that has always made family a priority.

– See more at: http://www.panoramitalia.com/en/life-people/traditions/love-bambini/1392/#sthash.aoiJdf3W.dpuf

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