$50,000: Baptisms now big business

AUSTRALIAN christenings are rivalling weddings as parents go all out to celebrate their child's introduction to Christianity in lavish style. Events costing up to $50,000 including five-star meals, professional photographers, designer gowns and waterfront venues are held across Sydney every weekend.

Amelia’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au
Amelia’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au

While the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose a private, intimate affair to baptise little Archie last week, Aussie families are hosting christening events that are bigger and better than ever before.

Sydney stylist Jess Bastawrous of Sass Events said christenings have become more elaborate in the past two years as families combine the religious celebration with first birthday parties that will make a big impact on social media.

"I have had mothers tell me their main goal is to have an event that is bigger and better than previous family events they have been to," Bastawrous said. "For some people it has turned into a bit of a competition."

Despite this, figures from the Catholic Church show baptisms are down five per cent in just a year, from around 58,000 Australia-wide during 2016 to around 55,000 in 2017.

"The shift is toward less religious affiliation and along with that, baptisms will also be declining," McCrindle social researcher Geoff Brailey said. "Some families are looking for new ways to celebrate the birth of their child. And when you consider 29 per cent of Australians are born overseas, there will be new traditions coming from places like Asia."

Jarrod and Honey Partridge chose a Balinese grounding ceremony for their eight-month-old son, Ayrton as they were temporarily living in Bali when he was born.

Amelia’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au
Amelia’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au

"Balinese believe there are evil spirits in the ground, and that a newborn isn't strong enough to fight them off," Jarrod said. "105 days from the birth you have a grounding ceremony where the Balian (like a priest) makes offerings and blesses the ground to cleanse it, then the baby touches its foot on the ground for the first time."

Social media and influence from overseas has extended the types of celebrations we have to welcome children to the world. Gender reveal parties, where parents come up with unique ways to announce the sex of their new baby, is a US tradition now popular in Australia.

Amelia’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au
Amelia’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au

Another idea borrowed from the US is Sip-and-See parties where guests "sip" drinks and "see" the new baby, the idea being to combine months of individual visits into one event.

Sarah Tolmie, a celebrant for 15 years, has seen the growth of name day ceremonies. She says some new parents may not want a religious ceremony, but still want a spiritual one.

Ethan’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au
Ethan’s christening. Nick Stewart Skipping Stone Photography www.skippingstone.com.au

Blessingway ceremonies, which involve a circle of women who gather to support and bless an expectant mum as she prepares for motherhood, is also becoming popular, she said.

"I hear from people all the time 'I'm not religious but I am spiritual'," Tolmie said.

For Belmore couple, David and Tania Abreu, family tradition dictated big Catholic christenings for their three children, Sienna, six, Ethan, three and Jordan, nine months. Tania estimates they spent around $15,000 on Ethan's christening (pictured) with around 120 guests at Oliveto Rhodes, including professional photos by Skipping Stone Photography.

"Our christenings are on a par with weddings," Tania said. "But the religious church ceremony is just as important, if not more so, as the reception afterwards."

The Balinese Grounding Ceremony for baby Ayrton.
The Balinese Grounding Ceremony for baby Ayrton.

For southwest Sydney couple George and Samantha Hourani, christening their three daughters, Amelia, three and six-month-old twins Savannah and Valentina, was equally important. They spent $30,000 on a ceremony and reception for Amelia's baptism.

"My husband and I were both christened and were brought up in Catholic households, we really wanted to continue that with our children," Samantha said. "It's out children's first introduction to god and the church and a special time to choose godparents."



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