Birth Rites & Celebration in Fantasy

As I promised in my last post about death (and funerary customs), this week I’m flipping things around and talking about new life! Birth rites and celebrations, to be specific (and not to be confused with birthday celebrations, which I covered a few weeks ago). So, without further ado, let’s look at how your culture might handle births and new babies!

Birth Itself

This may be more or less relevant depending on what your story calls for, what characters are involved, and even whether your characters are human/oid or not, but it may be helpful to determine what the atmosphere of a birth is like in this culture.

First of all, think about who might be present for a birth. Is the father involved or kept out of the room? Are any relatives called? Is a midwife or doctor present? Is a religious official called right away?

Who is present will be somewhat dependent on where births usually take place. Are they expected to take place at a hospital or other place of medicine, or are they generally just at home? Depending on how nitty-gritty you want to get, you might consider whether there are any common pain-killers administered during birth or if women have all-natural births. (Some of these factors will depend on your culture’s view on medicine and the natural design of things.)

Birth might look very different if your culture doesn’t have live birth at all because their species lays eggs, for example, instead. In this case, birth may be considered to occur at the time of hatching and those beyond the mother and child may have very little to do with it. In cases like these, most of your attention may fall to the other considerations in this post due to nature as much as relevance.


One important thing to consider when a new character is born is how they receive their name (and when and from whom). Characters might receive their name at birth–whether their name is decided upon birth or has already been chosen beforehand–or may not receive their names until a dedication ceremony (which we’ll get to shortly) or even later. Some cultures may give names based on birth order or other in-born traits, in which case naming is probably quite simple and automatic upon birth.

If names are given by the parents, then they may be selected at or before birth and are likely used around the home immediately, but may or may not be announced to those outside the household until a dedication ceremony. If names are bestowed by a religious or political official, the family may use a nickname until the child’s legal name has been given with ceremony.

Some cultures may give children multiple names, whether with different meanings or for different uses. Some cultures may, for example, offer a name to be used in public and another name to be used around family and close friends. Some may have additional names that almost no one knows because names are thought to give power over the one named. For cultures where multiple names are common, different names may be given by different people and/or at different times.

You may also consider what names are generally expected to mean in this culture. Some cultures may choose names based on sound alone, others might select based on meanings that are important to families, others may refer to one’s place in society or one’s perceived destiny, others may indicate one’s familial ties and/or birth order, etc. Knowing these expectations can also allow you to break them as appropriate and write believable responses to this break in tradition.

Dedication Rites

Not every culture will have something in this category, but you’ll likely want to at least ask if your culture has some sort of rite dedicating a new child to a religion or societal purpose, or simply announcing their birth to the community. Announcement ceremonies may fall more into the next category we’ll talk about, so for now we’ll focus on cultures in which new children are dedicated to a faith or to a specific purpose within their society.

Dedication to a religion might look like a baby dedication, an infant baptism, the offering of a child to work in a place of worship, or something else to similar effect. This would obviously involve the parents and the religious leaders–whether of their town or of the greater clergy of their religion–and may also include extended family and/or the greater faith community. There might be a sacrifice involved–to redeem a child or as a thank offering–a vow made by the parents and/or faith community, a blessing given to the child, a prophecy made, an immersion or anointing or some other symbol of what’s being given to the child or expected of them as they grow, etc.

Dedication to a certain societal role might look somewhat similar, though obviously civil leaders would be involved and religious leaders may or may not be. A new child might be assigned to a particular job; a particular type of job; a particular area of the town, region, etc.; in situations where children are distributed by the government rather than by birth perhaps they’re even assigned to a particular family after birth. In cultures where strength is important, a baby may be tested to gauge their current and future strength. As usual, the precise workings of such a ceremony will be shaped by what your culture values.

If your culture has either sort of dedication ceremony, consider what this means for your character in the long-term. What are the binding effects of such a ceremony? Are there guarantees of the blessings given? Is the child expected to grow up a certain way? What are the consequences if they try to veer from their destiny or assigned place in society? In short, can these rites be broken/rebelled against later in life and, if so, what are the consequences?

Celebration and Honor

As a last consideration directly related to the baby, think about how a new birth might be celebrated. Are there parties thrown to celebrate new births? If so, who is involved? What does the party entail? Are there gifts given, special foods eaten (perhaps related to fertility, healing, growth, etc.), decorations set aside for such an occasion?

Think about whether this is the same for every child or if these celebrations differ from one child to the next in a family. Perhaps the firstborn has greater honor, for example, or perhaps there are certain numbers that are sacred to this culture or a number of children a family is expected to bear in order to be considered “fruitful” or “accomplished” and celebrations are more distinct when these numbers are reached.

The style of celebration may also differ from family to family–based on differing values or means–or based on social class, religious background, etc.

Care for the Family

Lastly, think about how care for a new baby may extend to their family as a whole. Does this culture have anything akin to baby showers, to help the family accumulate the things they need for the new baby? Are meals brought to grant the mother a break following the birth? Are gifts given informally? Are older children welcomed into others’ homes or watched over by visiting friends and relatives to let the mother focus on the newest sibling? Are friends and relatives willing to tend to the house while the family focuses on their relationships with one another and adjusting to an additional member of the household?

The level of support that a family receives may depend on what this culture views as the community’s responsibility, what it views as the family’s responsibility, and how it views family as a whole. Joyful support may be much more common in a culture that values children, and may even increase as a family grows; while a culture that sees children as a burden or distraction may leave families to do more on their own and support may even taper off as a family has more children.

Births are an exciting thing, and new babies can add a lot more to a story–and characters’ lives–than seems to often be explored. Tell me in the comments: What are your favorite books that include new babies? Have there been births in any of your books?

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