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The tradition behind dressing your baby in white at baptism

BAPTISM
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Changing into white clothing is meant to symbolize a baby's entrance into new life in Christ.

The beautiful white dress or white suit that many babies wear for their baptism has deep roots in tradition and in the symbolic meaning of the baptismal ceremony. Marking the child’s entrance into the family of the Church, the baptism ceremony unfolds in four stages, each corresponding with a different symbol: water, the Holy Chrism, white clothing, and light. In the original rite, babies were brought to the church in normal clothes, and then changed into their white outfit during the baptismal rite itself. Since white is a symbol of purity and innocence, the changed outfit signified the child’s entrance into a new life, the life of the baptized. Today, many priests are more flexible about that tradition, mainly for reasons of practicality. But you can still incorporate touches of white during the ceremony if you wish.

What piece of white clothing is appropriate?

It’s entirely up to the family what piece of white clothing the child is dressed in for the ceremony. It could be a traditional white baptismal dress– even more special if it’s been worn by previous generations. You could also buy a brand new dress or suit, or even a little white cape, or easier still, a white cardigan or a finely crafted white baptismal bib. It really doesn’t matter as long as it’s white. Generally speaking, the mother, helped by the godmother, adds the white garment, so if you choose to change the baby midway through the ceremony, make sure the clothing is relatively easy to put on while you’re all gathered around the baptismal font.

If the baby comes already dressed in white for the ceremony, you could mark this stage of the ceremony by adding a little white bonnet or cap to the baby’s ensemble.
Whether you are able to change the baby’s whole outfit into white or choose simply to add a bonnet or cap to their baptismal outfit, the important thing is to recognize that white clothing has a symbolic meaning of transitioning into new life, as an outward sign of being clothed in God’s grace.
Adapted from an article originally published in the French Edition of Aleteia.
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