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Baptism and First Communion 

When do baptisms usually occur?
There is no fixed age, but bautizos should take place before infants celebrate their first birthdays. At times, the children may be as old as four or five; a baptism may even be combined with a First Holy Communion. The ceremony does not usually take place during an ordinary mass, but is a special event which commonly occurs in the morning. A parish church may set a certain date on which several children are baptized together. 

Who attends a baptism?
This is generally a family event, although close friends may also be invited. It may be considered something of a symbol of your importance to the family if you are asked to be a guest. Children are welcome at the event (although, unlike at a birthday party, there is no special entertainment for them). If you cannot attend, simply excuse yourself. There is no need to send a gift or card. 

What kind of celebration occurs?
Even families with limited economic resources will invite those who attend to their homes where a cake, decorated in a manner relevant to a baptism, will be served. There is often a toast, and families who are financially more secure may provide an entire luncheon. 

Do I need to bring a gift?
This is a thoughtful gesture, but not obligatory. An appropriate present would be anything the child could use or something religious in nature, such as a book of sacred stories or a picture of a saint. Two of the most important Virgins in the Dominican Republic are Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy) and Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace). An image of the first was given by the Spanish Queen Isabela to Fray Juan Infante, Christopher Columbus’ confessor—or to the priests of the “Order of Those Who Brought Baptism to that Immense Land” (there are two traditional versions of how the image ended up in the Cathedral in Santo Domingo). The image of the Virgin of Altagracia, the country’s patron saint, was said to have been taken by Alonso and Antonio de Trexo from Placencia, Extremadura, Spain, to the village of Higuey before the year 1650. 

Many bookstores carry appropriate religious books, and there are numerous shops specializing in religious items. Two of these, Casa de la Anunciación, Calle T. Chasse No. 12, Tel. 566-9449 and Casa San Pablo, on Av. Rómulo Betancourt. Many gift shops also have a small selection of items suitable for a religious occasion. You are not obliged to give a religious kind gift, either.

What if I am asked to be a godparent?
Godparents, called padrinos or madrinas, are usually family members or close family friends. In the past they tended to be the older and most respected members of the family. Sometimes two non-family members and two family members are chosen. In more recent times, the godparents have been younger people, who could care for the child’s well-being in the event that anything happened to the parents. 

Godparents must attend a short course at the church, together with the parents. This reminds them of their responsibilities in teaching the child to live as a Christian. The godparents may sometimes pay for the child’s white baptismal outfit, but this is not always the case. 

What should I wear to a baptism?
The occasion is not usually formal by Dominican standards, but still wear your Sunday best. Men may wear a suit or guayabera. Some baptisms can be very formal, depending on the parents’ style. The best bet is to ask what would be appropriate at the time you are invited. 

Are there any special traditions related to baptisms?
It used to be that the godfather would give five or ten centavos to anyone who asked him. This custom has fallen from popularity (probably because of inflation!). 

There is an old Dominican saying, "El que bautiza un niño tiene un escalón al cielo," He who baptizes a child is another step up to Heaven. Having more godchildren (ahijados) could therefore be considered a blessing, as one could build a stairway to Heaven. 

The First Holy Communion. 

My child’s school is planning a group First Holy Communion. Is it necessary for my child to take part?
The First Holy Communion is a primarily religious affair, an often unforgettable moment for Catholic children who learn the meaning of the Eucharist, the bread and wine which are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, whom believers henceforth have within themselves. There are Catechism classes for several weeks before the event, through which the children learn the precepts and prayers of the Catholic faith. 

If your family is of a different religion, you may not want your child to make a First Holy Communion and technically, at least, from the Catholic Church's aspect, it would not be correct. Many children from nominally Catholic families do, however, participate. As one mother said, “They don’t have to do it, but they feel left out if they don’t.”

When does the First Holy Communion usually take place?
Children generally make their First Holy Communion between the ages of eight and 12. Schools and churches often arrange for them to do so in groups. The sacrament is distributed during a Mass, often held on a significant day such as Mother’s Day (the most popular) or Corpus Cristi. 

This is the first time I have attended a First Holy Communion. What can I expect?
The girls will usually be dressed all in white, often with veils or “coronas”. The boys will also be all in white, or possibly white shirts with black or navy trousers. The children carry lighted candles and crosses over their necks when walking to the sanctuary to receive the Eucharist.

After the ceremony there is usually a breakfast or brunch, either held at the home of one of the children or at a hotel. Children are welcome at the ceremony and, as in the case of a baptism, formal dress is not required. Gifts are welcome, but not necessary and, again, religious items are particularly appropriate. They may be presented either at the church or at the following celebration, with the latter a possibly better course of action. 
 

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