I have the privilege of not only being a father, but also of being a godfather a few times over. While I know that many of these traditional roles are being revisited and reinvented, I feel that the role of Godfather remains one of those traditional roles that are difficult to reinvent.
So when I accept to be a child’s godfather, I think about the time I will have to dedicate to it, I think about what the parents expect from me, I think about the influence they are hoping I will have on their child, and what values and behaviours they might have seen in me that they hope to nurture.
In other words, I think its an important role and to accept it is to accept a burden, which you have to bear with seriousness of purpose.
Once you’ve decided something is important, there are plenty of ways of demonstrating the seriousness of your undertaking, and one of them is to follow long-established codes of conduct. Baptism has a few of these, and what gifts you choose to give, both at the baptism and in future, is one way of showing your dedication to the role.
Traditional baptismal gifts
This is the register I tend to play in, at least for the first gift to my goddaughter or godson. One reason is that while the child is far to young to realize what hey have been given, the parents are not, and so the gift is a strong symbol of how seriously you take the role they have conferred upon you.
My typical choice is an engraved sterling silver cup. It’s expensive, but you don’t need to pay for a branded gift, any solid silver cup worthy of a child’s hands (so not too big) will do, provided the silver is of quality. Nobody cares if it came from Tiffany. Because I value discretion, I have it engraved on the inside, a little below the rim, with the child’s first name. I don’t add a date or a message.
Silver cups are a good choice because they can actually be used by the child when they are of age to drink from a cup. Sterling silver (i.e. not plated silver, but solid silver) is safe to drink from. In fact, it is safer than many substances commonly used in children’s drinking vessels such as plastic. So its a gift they will actually handle in time.
Important note: don’t get plated silver. When they drink acidic things like fruit juice or soft drinks it will pit the silver and expose them to the material underneath, which in some cases is toxic.
A silver napkin ring is another gift that can follow the child around for the rest of their life and which can make a pretty addition to a dinner table that is personalized for the child’s benefit for many years.
Other choices include a silver spoon, which I avoid because of the social connotation of being born with a “silver spoon in your mouth”. While there’s nothing wrong with the silver spoon as a baptismal gift, there is some potential for misunderstanding which I prefer to avoid. Also there are religious gifts such as gold or silver crosses on necklaces. I avoid these also because regardless of my own religious beliefs, I think a child should choose when they know what they’re doing and not carry around symbols of religion unless they choose to.
Modern baptismal gifts
Perhaps more fun are some creative alternatives to baptismal gifts. Here are a few for your consideration:
A case of fine wine. A proper wine merchant (Berry Bros, for example), will be able to help you choose a case of wines which will be of perfect drinking quality between your godchild’s 21st and 25th birthdays. This will provide them with the opportunity to drink six bottles of wine at hat age that will most likely be of a quality they could never otherwise afford. An eye-opening introduction to a world of gastronomic complexity that would otherwise be difficult to find.
Also in the alcoholic register, vintage port from the year of their birth, or a cask (or a share of a cask) of whisky. The idea is the same as for the wine, these age with the child, becoming ready to drink as they come of age.
A gift of jewelry is good if well chosen, and silver bracelets with the child’s name engraved on them are a good option, but you have to bear in mind that if they can wear them now, they will be too big by the time they are 1 year old. You could opt for a chain bracelet which can be extended in future, but chains on babies tend to get caught in things. A pretty necklace doesn’t have to feature a religious symbol and we received a very pretty silver necklace from one godparent for our daughter, but its value means we only bring it out on special occasions, for fear of losing it. Valuable gifts have their own inherent downsides.
Perhaps the gift that is the most conscientious in preparing for the future, but which is also the least visible or symbolic, is a savings account in the child’s name. You can get a good rate of interest if you lock the money away, and if you put a small sum into it monthly or yearly, you are providing insurance against the child’s future. The money can be freed up at a later date, and with interest will go a long way to contributing to a first car, or a gap year, or a course of study at a university. On the other hand, you will have to find another gift to give at the same time, because a statement from the bank is too impersonal to stand alone.
What if you’re not the Godparent?
Ah. That is a whole other subject. I have lots and lots of ideas for smaller presents, and how to choose them, but this post is long enough so that will be a subject for another time.
If you are not the godparent, however, you should be careful not to give traditional presents such as a silver goblet without discussing with the parents first. If the child receives two, then the parents will naturally favour the one received from a godparent, but if they received none, they may be very grateful for the gift from a generous third party. It is not necessary, however, to be so generous without cause, and you are likely to stand out among gift-givers, which can sometimes be good, and sometimes be a little showy.