Are Americans Alone in Their Obsession With Baby Showers?
“There is no tradition of baby showers in Russia whatsoever,” my Russian friend Ksenia, mom to a 2-year-old son, says. “Generally speaking, we believe that buying [for] or celebrating [the baby] in advance is bad luck," she explains, adding that superstition is nonetheless giving way to celebration as younger parents start to buy into Western customs.
While many cultures and religions, including Judaism, avoid pre-birth festivities for fear it will jinx the pregnancy, it’s certainly not a bad thing to move past superstitions and lift some of the fear, isolation and anxiety that so often surround birth. But in the U.S., baby showers (and their 21st-century cousin, the gender-reveal party) have ballooned into an entire industry — fueled by gift registries, Pinterest boards, goodie bags, lavish cupcake towers, hashtags and streams of crepe paper. One has to wonder: Is this getting out of control?
I’ve been to a fair share of baby showers in America; I even threw one for my sister’s first baby, a coed party at a Mexican restaurant that involved a custom-made cake shaped like a shark (and, thankfully, zero games). Emily Post would have cringed; Western tradition dictates that immediate family members shouldn’t play host to a baby shower, lest it appear to be self-serving.
But having lived in London for the past nine years, it’s occurred to me that I haven’t attended a single baby shower on this side of the pond. My British friends have about a million kids between them, and I’m no stranger to arranging playdates or setting up a Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed balloon display for a first birthday party. But when it comes to baby showers, there’s just not much interest.
My friend Lucy, who chose not to have a baby shower during her first pregnancy, explained that in general, British parents would rather “wet the baby’s head” at a pub with friends after the birth than fuss around with diaper cakes and cheesy parlor games. That “keep calm and carry on” mentality applies to carrying babies, apparently.
And it's not just English and Russian folks who are uninterested in the baby shower industrial complex. Tokyo-based fashion PR Eri Nobeashi was taken aback when her friend threw her a shower; such pre-birth celebrations are rare in Japan, where instead, parents and their loved ones traditionally take part in a naming ceremony (Oshichiya Meimeishiki) on the seventh night after the baby is born. Then, when the baby is at least a month old, he or she will join the parents and grandparents for the Hatsu Miyamairi (or Omiyamairi). This marks the child’s first visit to a shrine, where a Shinto priest will say a blessing and attendees will drink sake from red wooden cups.
Pretty low-key and family-oriented, right? By contrast, American parents-to-be feel immense pressure (from social media, celebrity culture and, of course, other parents) to create pregnancy announcements that have a shot at going viral and to host celebrations that are Instagram gold. These shower stakes being what they are, nobody could blame an expectant mother for opting out simply because she’s overwhelmed by it all — even if it means losing out on free onesies.
Peggy Parks, an etiquette expert in Atlanta, says that ultimately, the decision of whether — and how — to host a shower should belong to the mother-to-be. (Take that, Emily Post.) Parks also notes that, as baby showers have become less formal affairs, the rules governing proper party protocol have relaxed. These days, folks are unlikely to clutch their pearls if the celebration is hosted by a relative and includes male family members and friends. Showers for second and third babies are now so common, they’ve earned their own moniker: “sprinkles” — though firing up another baby registry when you’ve already got the essentials at home may elicit an eye roll or two.
Still, if subjecting yourself to a round of Guess the Baby Food while your loved ones sip mimosas holds little appeal, you could always hold out for a post-birth “sip and see” (translation: drink and meet the baby), something other cultures have perfected. In China, a “red egg and ginger party” is hosted anywhere from a month to 100 days after a new arrival and is thought to bring good luck and longevity. And in Egypt, a Sebou ritual honors a newborn’s seventh day of life. Or you could, you know, just not have a party. Radical, right?
But if all else fails, there are always mini-macarons and stork centerpieces.