Different cultures have different traditions for baby’s first haircut
Friday, May 25, 2007
If all a baby's 'firsts,' the first haircut surely ranks among the most special. The whole family comes to watch, someone takes pictures, and more than a few tears are shed-by baby and by Mom.
But not every family celebrates this milestone in the same way. The most common practice in the United States is for parents to bring their child to a salon or a barbershop when the hair starts to look too scraggly or sometime after the first birthday. Many parents save a lock of hair for the baby book.
In other countries, however, the 'where,' 'when' and 'why' of a baby's first haircut are different.
For Farha Badal's son Fayaz, the first haircut came when he was a mere seven days old-and not because he was born with especially long hair. Rather, it's because Fayaz and his family, who live in Glendale Heights, are Muslim.
The seven-day haircut is a religious obligation, part of the child's 'initiation' into Muslim life, says Shaykh Abdool Rahman Khan, resident scholar at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park. The general idea is that shaving the baby's head-removing the hair grown in the womb-cleanses the body at the beginning of life.
Traditionally, the hair is weighed and its value in silver is given to charity. Since the average newborn's hair doesn't exactly tip the scales, many families simply make a charitable donation.
What is done with the hair afterwards varies depending on local Muslim custom. Some families simply toss it in the trash. But for Badal, a native of Hyderabad, India, tradition called for the first wisps of hair to be washed away in water. "We did ours in Lake Michigan," she says.
Muslims aren't the only group for whom a baby's first haircut has religious meaning. Hindu babies have their heads shaved, or tonsured, and the hair is given as an offering to the family god.
This tonsuring, and the elaborate Mundan ceremony that accompanies the haircut, can only take place during the odd months of the baby's life.
For parents in India, the event typically takes place at their family deity temple. However, like many Indians living abroad, Sangita Santhanam of Lombard had to make a few modifications to the custom. When her son Siddhartha was 7 months old, they tonsured his head at a local salon and kept the hair. During a visit to India, they dropped the hair in their temple's offering box.
"Having seen all the kids in our family go through this ritual, it was nice to see him go through it as well," Santhanam says.
But that's not to say that Siddhartha's first haircut was a completely joyous experience. "The fact that he wailed and complained throughout was the not-so-pleasant aspect."
A symbol of good luck
Chinese custom says that babies should have a "good luck" haircut after the traditional one-month postpartum resting period for mother and child. Grandmothers do the cutting. Red-the Chinese color of good luck-plays an important role.
With each of her grandchildren, Chicagoan Ruth Kung took specially prepared balls of rice, red paper envelopes filled with money and eggs dyed red and passed them over the child's forehead, wishing him or her strength, peace of mind and smooth skin.
Some families shave the entire head except for the crown, while others take just a few snips of the hair. After the haircut, the child puts on a red cap especially for the occasion.
Unfortunately, says Kung, the good luck haircut is a dying tradition, practiced these days only by those with an old-fashioned mother or grandmother.
A beginning of education
Orthodox Jewish custom has perhaps one of the longest timelines for a baby's first haircut.
Following tradition, Chicagoan Devorah Lifchitz left her son Shalom Dov Ber's hair long until his third birthday. Then, in a special ceremony at the synagogue, family and community members took turns snipping off his hair. This ceremony, called an upsherenish, is part haircut, part birthday party and the official start of a boy's Jewish education.
In a modern twist on this old world tradition, many Orthodox parents donate their sons' hair to Locks of Love, a charity that makes wigs for ill children.
Why wait until age 3? Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, finds meaning in the Torah, where a verse says man is like the tree of the field, and in Israeli law, which says trees cannot have their fruit used until they've reached their third year.
"We take from that a lesson that the child is in a more innocent state by not cutting his hair," he says.
The upsherenish can be both a proud and a bittersweet moment for parents. "I think it was more emotional. "When he had long hair, he was innocent like a baby. Now that we cut his hair, he's more like a little boy and he acts like a little boy," Lifchitz says.
An end to babyhood
Jill Jensen, lead store manager for KidSnips children's hair salon in Deerfield, would agree. No matter how old the child is, she says, "it's not uncommon for someone to feel that they ended babyhood by getting that first boy haircut."
The little baby curls around the ears are gone, and the clean line on the back looks grown-up.
"It's the end of an era, a milestone, a rite of passage."
Danielle Logacho lives in Lombard. Her daughter, Sofia, received her first haircut around her first birthday, while her son, Lucas, got his first trim at 6 months.