Godparents are a supportive extension of family for a child

Godparenting is predominantly a Christian tradition, but the custom of giving a child a supportive extended family is found in many other cultures.

Anyone who has ever been asked to be a child’s godparent will know how special it is. The modern godparenting relationship is a complex one. The role may be recognition of a special relationship between adults and, in an increasingly materialistic world, godparents may even be chosen with financial gain in mind. But the origins of godparenting are less materialistic and have more to do with religion and kinship.

The tradition of godparents can be traced back to the early Christian church, when adults wanting to join the church would be appointed a sponsor to help them make their way on their spiritual journey.

Before the 4th century, it was rare for babies to be baptized; the role of their sponsors was to assist the child’s mother and father, acting as co-parents, or compadres’ as they are known in Latin and Hispanic cultures.

The part a godparent is expected to play in a child’s life differs according to religion and culture. In the Latin and Hispanic worlds, the tradition has its origins in faith, but the custom has evolved into a very particular kind or friendship and extended kinship.

Originally, the role was predominantly spiritual, requiring the godparents to instruct their godchild in religious matters. In Latin and Hispanic communities, the relationship is regarded as being as close as that between blood relatives, and Roman Catholic godparents are still forbidden to marry their godchild.

In the Pagan religion, godparents have no spiritual role; they are only asked to provide the child with love and support.

Although the custom of godparenting has changed over the years, the sentiment behind it has always remained the same to bless a child with extra love and support.

Some godparents have achieved mythical and legendary status. Two stand head and shoulders above the rest. The Godfather’, immortalized in Mario Puzo’s novels, and The fairy Godmother, a rather more benign creation, but just as powerful.

The Fairy Godmother has the kind of special powers that any parents would want a friend or substitute parent to have for the benefit of their child. A true guardian angel, she makes wishes come true and comes to the rescue when family has failed you.

The Godfather, on the other hand, exercised a rather more authoritarian hold over his extended family, but the principle of Godparenting is still there: a stand-in-parent who protects his own.

When a baby is christened, the parents and godparents make vows on the child’s behalf, promising to raise the child in the Christian faith. The child is given its Christian names at the ceremony.

Being a godparent creates a unique relationship between godparent and child, although the cynical godparent in the 21st century may sometimes feel that they have been asked more for their finances than their faith.

Pagans take part in naming ceremonies, which are known as Paganning or Wiccanning. These rituals do not serve the same purpose as those in the Christian religions, where the child is introduced to the parents’ faith. Wiccans believe faith should be a free choice.

Instead, blessings are sought for the child, and motherguides and fatherguides are called on to provide support and love. The ideal time for a Wiccanning is as the Moon is waxing.

Among Hispanic and Latin Roman Catholic families, the custom of compadrazgo’ is not undertaken lightly.

Compadrazgo exists to strengthen family ties. The relationship between the co-parents is of almost greater significance than that between godchild and godparent, with any marriage or sexual relationship between co-parents seen as incestuous.

The custom binds the parents, co-parents and children in a relationship, with the co-parents having the same obligations as they would to their own families.