By Beau Tedesco
There are as many ways to mark and celebrate the arrival of a baby as there are cultures in the world, with each tradition striving to bring the newest little member of the community into the fold in a positive and loving manner. Here, we’ll examine the related custom of the Croatian Orthodox community as it has been practiced since the mid twentieth century. It must be noted that the information included here is based on anecdotal evidence gathered from the author’s maternal relatives who hail from the region, and where some of them still reside. As well, for the sake of ease, “the baby” will be referred to as “he”.
When a baby is born into the Croatian Orthodox community, he is welcomed with a two-tiered gift. The first step in the ritual finds relatives and friends visiting the baby’s home where they place a gift of paper money under his head as he sleeps in his crib. The second phase involves having the child return the visit. Upon crossing the threshold, he is again given a gift of money which is, at this time, supplemented with an egg.
The timing of the dual gift of money, the two separate locations, and the egg are all crucial elements of this convention. Clearly, the baby won’t be able to spend the money for several years, so receiving it at this time in his life is more symbolic than useful. The placement of a bill under the baby’s head while he is safe in his own home and still pure of thought indicates the giver’s hope not only that the child’s future will be prosperous but also that the transferred wealth will be used intelligently and with forethought. This wish is reinforced with the second instance of giving money to the baby while he is out in the community, broadening the symbolism to include the notion of giving to others who are not necessarily related to us and whose need may be greater.
Augmenting the gift of money with an egg during the community visit demonstrates the child’s value within the Orthodox faith. In her article written for the Croatian Information Center, Diana Kuncic-Bojic connects the egg as the universal symbol of life to the Orthodox Easter egg (including the Croatian “pisanica”), a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, the giving of an egg to the newest member of the community not only honours his individual worth as a new life, but also welcomes him into the larger circle represented by the Orthodox Church. The rite of Baptism later formalizes the embrace.
This custom has evolved in the present day to the giving of used clothing instead of an egg. It is possible that the depressed economy of the region has contributed to the careful rationing of food. Perhaps it is simply a matter of practicality; infants need clothing and the handing down of gently used baby items is both frugal and environmentally friendly. In either case: money and egg, or money and used clothing, the babies of the Croatian Orthodox community continue to be welcomed in the true spirit of giving.