The second of two blog posts about naming ceremonies, the first is about Ewan’s naming ceremony ‘The need to name’.
The need to name part II
The second time around
On the birth of our second child, Tessa, I was very keen to hold another naming ceremony, to celebrate her arrival into the world. It was far easier the second time around as we were already familiar with naming ceremonies, having held a very successful one for Ewan three years previously. Life felt a lot busier with a three year old and a new-born, so I was grateful the planning didn’t take quite as long! Still, the week before the ceremony was dominated with preparations for the big day, with my mum helping look after Ewan as much as possible. I spent a lot of time carrying Tessa in the sling, as she fed or slept or watched what I was doing, which made the preparations more special and worthwhile. I was excited that we had enough time, resources and help to be able to welcome Tessa into the world in a similar way to how we had once welcomed her big brother.
We held Tessa’s naming ceremony when she was six months old, in September 2013. Like last time, we held the ceremony in our local village hall, in the same large room, and my brother Matthew again offered to be celebrant. Matthew and I managed to plan the ceremony using the script from Ewan’s as a base, which we added to and amended as necessary. I also felt confident enough this time to read a poem about Tessa, which I had written a few weeks before the ceremony, whilst on holiday in Ireland. This poem is in a previous post. I felt nervous reading my own work, but it went very well, even more so as my baby daughter insisted on feeding throughout the reading, which helped to calm my nerves!
Singing and children
My brother-in-law, Mike, again offered to sing on the day; Ewan was involved in choosing a lovely song which him and Grandma often sing, When the Snow Falls – YouTube. Mike sang this very well, then asked the audience to join in. It was great to get Ewan involved in the preparations, as it made him feel involved and important. He also agreed to light the candle during the ceremony, which on the day was a really poignant moment for many of us as we watched him, carefully, with much concentration, light the candle at the beginning of the ceremony. The candle symbolised Tessa’s new life, shining throughout the ceremony and day.
My little cousin Charlotte, who was 11 at the time, also offered to read a poem, which made the ceremony very child-focused. Many people in the audience commented on how captivating it was listening to Charlotte reading ’10 fingers and 10 toes'; she read the poem from memory with tremendous confidence and skill.
We chose my cousin and her fiancé Lisa and Ryan to be Tessa’s supporting adults. They play a huge part in Ewan’s life so I knew they would be delighted to accept this important role. Since Ewan’s birth we have spent a few weekends a year at their house, where they have treated Ewan and now Tessa like their own children. They were very kind and offered to help with preparations the night before the ceremony and on the big day, which again took the pressure off for me. It did feel quite overwhelming organising the ceremony myself, with two small children to take care of, but amidst all the busyness I felt I had found and lived in my village, who were helping to raise Ewan and would do the same for Tessa.
I arrived early at the hall on the morning of the ceremony, walking there with Tessa in a sling, in order to calm my mind and feel prepared for the day ahead. I stood in the hall breathing deeply, my mind cast back to Ewan as a four month old baby three years earlier. How much had changed for my son, for me and for my family in the intervening years. I had learnt a tremendous amount about being a mother in that time. I had aged, but in a good way. Ewan had grown into a gorgeous little boy who was delightful to be around. I was still very much at the start of the most amazing journey life has to offer, that of being a mother.
I stood there as my baby daughter gurgled happily in the sling, her heart close to my heart, looking out at an empty hall. Soon it would be filled with people come to celebrate Tessa’s new life, the wonderful new addition to our family. Tessa was unaware of how significant today was, but in years to come I’d be able to share today with her. I read the poem out again from memory, my words confident and clear in the empty hall. I wondered what the next three years would bring, how much more I would develop as a mother and as a person, and how much my children would also grow.
The naming ceremony went very well, although of course there were a few hiccups. Some relatives on my side of the family were very late due to traffic hold-ups, including my eldest brother, who was the photographer, which meant the ceremony started late. Nevertheless, in the end we were all there and ready to sing, listen, watch and take part in the ceremony and admire the tiny little girl who was the reason we were all there. After the formal ceremony, we all shared a ‘fuddle’, everyone having brought a dish to share. At the end we all sang ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ and I handed out cake pops to all the children.
Before I knew it the day was over. We headed home with a lot of the family, to continue celebrating in the garden and in our house, enjoying the autumn sunshine and more food and drinks before everyone had to go their separate ways.
It is rare that so many of the people that are important to me are assembled in one place. We all lead such busy lives and are scattered in different areas of the county and country. The ceremony offered an opportunity for us all to come together and pause for a moment, giving thanks for the arrival of a new life amongst us. I am thankful I had this opportunity, to share the arrival of my daughter with so many other people.
If anyone would like any advice about holding a naming ceremony, just ask, I would be happy to help. It is well worth putting in the time and effort and making the ceremony your own, as it is something you’ll remember for years to come and something you can share with your little one as they get older.
This blog post to about travelling in Nepal with my children and the donation giving we were involved in when we were there.
My one-year-old daughter squeals with happiness as she is thrown high up into the air by an equally delighted Tibetan woman, who bounces her ceaselessly into the bright blue sky and down into her open arms. Overwhelmed and humbled, I fight back tears as I observe this beautiful interaction between Tessa and Dolma. I have returned to Tashi Palkheil Tibetan Refugee Camp, sixteen years after I lived here as a gap year student, this time with a different purpose and with my young family.
In 1998, when I was eighteen years old, I spent six months living in Nepal on my gap year, before taking up a place at Warwick University studying English Literature. I travelled to Nepal with Gap Challenge, which at the time was a small gap year company offering students exciting opportunities to work and travel in far-flung corners of the earth. I spent three months teaching English to Tibetan children, living in the teacher accommodation on the camp and eating with the Tibetan hostel children. This formative experience touched me deeply, very much shaping the person I am today. I kept the memories of that amazing and enriching time alive by learning more about Buddhism and the plight of the Tibetan people, as well as returning to visit in 2007 when travelling around Asia. It was wonderful to re-visit the camp and recognise some of my old students.
My parents and I arranged to sponsor one of my former students Sonam,a teenage girl who had just lost her mother and was in particular need of financial assistance to continue her studies. From 2007 until 2014 we sponsored Sonam through high school and onto university. We also developed a close friendship with her through email and letters. After having children it was my dream for them to meet Sonam and to visit the camp which had such a profound impact on my life. Fortunately, my husband and I share a love of travel, mountains and the outdoors, so we agreed to embark on the trip of a lifetime, back to Nepal with our four and one-year-old children.
Tibetan Refugee Camps
Following the 1959 Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet and the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, over 20,000 Tibetans have migrated to Nepal. Many have since migrated to India or have settled in one of the twelve refugee camps in Nepal. These camps were established by the Red Cross, the Nepalese Government, the Swiss Government and other parties to help resettle the Tibetans fleeing their homeland. Like refugees around the world, the Tibetans face multiple problems trying to make a living and a life for their families in difficult economic, social and personal circumstances.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is currently experiencing more pressure from China to reduce the few rights Tibetan refugees living in Nepal have. This has resulted in further hardship and suffering for the Tibetan people, including limited job prospects and opportunities for young people. When I lived at Tashi Palkheil in 1998 there were approximately 1000 residents on the camp, that has reduced to 700 as young people either migrate to India or to developed countries abroad.
Since discovering yoga five years ago when pregnant with my first child Ewan, I have not looked back. Yoga is a significant part of my day-to-day life; the practice helped me immensely during both of my pregnancies, when giving birth and with postnatal recovery. Yoga provides a grounding and a connection to myself both physically and spiritually, which is so easily lost in the busyness of everyday life with two young children. Through my practice, I feel healthier in body and spirit, more supple and flexible, as well as more mindful and able to live in the moment. I have attended a weekly local yoga class for the past five years, led by Jenny Meadows, which is where the idea of fund-raising for the Tibetan people first took shape.
Every year Jenny runs a yoga summer school. Last year, she decided to start donating proceeds from the classes to charity. Jenny’s daughter, Carrie, made the wonderful suggestion that we could raise money for the Tibetan camps I was soon to visit. The other yoga students happily agreed to this. We added to the funds by raising money at a special yoga session on Peace One Day 2014 as well. In total we raised £700, a handsome sum of money which went a long way in helping Tibetans in Nepal.
Sonam has worked as a volunteer on her own and two other Tibetan refugee camps over the past few years. She was therefore ideally placed to conduct research into who would benefit from some additional income through our fund-raising and readily agreed to act as our guide. Her field research suggested there were thirty individuals and/or families who were in particular need of additional income, spread over the three camps.
Our Nepal adventure
After a year of planning and preparation, my family set off on our Nepal adventure in late October 2014. With almost six weeks ahead of us, we were very excited about the prospect of exploring Nepal again, this time with our children in tow. It was fantastic to see Sonam again after sixteen years and thousands of letters of correspondence. She immediately connected with Ewan and Tessa, displaying the same warmth and love of children that all Tibetans share.
We began our trip by trekking for five days with Sonam in an area very popular with trekkers, the Annapurna foothills. This mountain range is on Sonam’s doorstep, but circumstances have meant she has never had the opportunity or the means to trek there. The trek was very beautiful and memorable, even more so because we experienced it with Sonam. We saw the foothills through a new lens, that of a local Tibetan woman and dear friend. We achieved our goal of trekking up to Poon Hill at 3193m, where we were rewarded with a truly awe-inspiring sunrise as the majestic view of the Annapurna Range opened up before us.
On our return to Tashi Palkheil Camp we were warmly greeted by Sonam’s family, who treated us like family. It was a dream come true to return to the camp with my children and such a privilege to meet Sonam’s family whom I’d heard so much about. Her Father and Uncle were delighted to meet us, especially Tessa and Ewan whom they doted on. It was very special sharing food with them and showing them photos of my time there in 1998.
The experience of donating money to the camps was unforgettable; an emotional experience which shall remain with me always. There were fifteen families on Tashi Palkheil Camp whom we donated money to, including a lot of elderly widows who had multiple health and personal problems. The families arrived at Sonam’s house to meet us and collect the money. Sonam summarised where and how the money had been raised, before I handed out the money individually to each person. After the donation giving, each person gave us a khata, a traditional Tibetan ceremonial scarf made of silk. The scarf is presented at special occasions and is usually white, symbolising the pure heart of the giver. By the end of the ceremony we were drowning in emotions and in khatas.
That day we also visited and donated money in two other Tibetan Refugee Camps, Jampaling and Paljorling, both also close to Pokhara. We were similarly met with the same open, friendly welcome and the same khata ceremony was performed. We sat touching heads with over thirty Tibetans that day, as they offered us their thanks with the placing of a scarf around our necks and those of our children. We left feeling overwhelmed and overawed, wondering what we could do with so many blessed and precious scarves that would be worthy of the givers. Many Tibetans also gave us friendship bracelets and other small gifts of jewellery, small material gestures which meant so much. It was an intensely humbling experience, to be shown such enormous gratitude and kindness from people who have so little and whom we gave, in our monetary terms, a relatively small amount of money to.
After the donation giving, we spent fifteen days trekking in the Langtang Valley, climbing up to 4,700m, then onto the Gosainkunda Holy lakes, a popular pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus. At the end of our trip we spent four days in Namo Buddha monastery forty-five miles south-east of Kathmandu, where I was able to reflect on the experience of donation giving in a very beautiful and auspicious place, surrounded by Buddhist devotees and fluttering prayer flags.
Our trip was deeply enriched by travelling with our children, as they instantly attracted the attention of local people in a very positive way. Our children knocked down any barriers of communication and culture by their open and smiling faces, their inquisitiveness in this new environment matched by those of the many Nepalis and Tibetans we met. The local people were equally as intrigued to meet two very young and engaging children and their ‘crazy’ parents, travelling off the beaten path into the Himalaya with their family. The memory of my children bowing as Tibetans placed khata’s around their necks shall remain with me always.
This profound experience has taught me to be grateful for and mindful of the vast opportunities and riches which I have in my life. I attempt to give thanks for all that I have everyday, whilst reminding myself that many people have far less than me, including these Tibetans who are stateless and living in poverty.
Return to the UK
We returned to the UK feeling exhausted and culture-shocked, but also full of many happy memories of an amazing trip to Nepal. I also felt a real need to share my experiences with my family and friends. I prepared a short presentation of the donation giving, which I have shared with all Jenny’s yoga students. I have also distributed the khata scarves to every yoga student who wished to have one. In this way the scarves have found their true homes, on the people who donated money to the Tibetans who in turn gave me the scarves as a thank you.
The scarves are blessed with the gratitude and love of the Tibetan people; now they are being used in meditation and as a memento of one positive action achieved. It is so easy to feel despondent and powerless in a world where suffering, war, violence and disaster are rife. However, after the presentations we all agreed we had done something positive and given something tangible back. The donors were also grateful that they could see where their money was going, making it a more personal donation experience.
After the presentation Jenny led us into a meditation where we were asked to focus our attention on the Tibetan people whose lived we had touched. In that meditation room I felt a collective offering of love and peace for the Tibetans, an enveloping hug sent thousands of miles across the seas to a far off land. We all blessed them in our own way and hoped our money and our thoughts helped them in some way.
The response to my presentations has been very positive. We are planning on continuing our fund-raising this coming year. On September 19th, Jenny and a fellow yoga teacher, Barbara Archer, will lead a half day yoga session and I shall give another presentation about Tibet. This shall be to celebrate Peace One Day, which is on September 21st.
Sonam has identified three main areas where assistance is most required; in health, in education and in young people’s and women’s employment. She is currently researching the possibility of funding being given to the health clinics on the camps to enable women to receive free gynaecology check-ups.
I am thankful my initial voluntary work as an eighteen-year-old girl is continuing into the present day. On a personal level it keeps alive a connection I formed with the Tibetans almost two decades ago. On a wider level it enables a group of people who have found community through yoga, to give both financially and in their hearts to another group of people less fortunate than themselves. So far, it has been a very rewarding experience for me, donating money in the field and sharing the experience back home with their fellow students. I look forward to our future plans together.
To find out more about the situation for many Tibetans in Nepal please visit;
On the birth of our son we were keen to celebrate his arrival in a formal but non-religious ceremony, shared amongst family and friends. My husband and I are spiritual people, who believe our son should be provided the opportunity to develop his own spiritual or secular ideas about life as he grows. A naming ceremony was therefore ideal. It enabled us to welcome Ewan into his community in a unique way whilst including all our guests, regardless of their own belief system. Having made this decision, we began planning the practicalities of the day and exploring its deeper meaning.
Communities seek to name and announce their newest members in a huge variety of ways. A child’s name is significant in many societies. The image of a parent holding its newborn to the sky, sun or moon and repeating his name transcends time, place and culture. It can be that simple, or it can be an elaborate affair, involving the whole community. In the UK it is traditional to hold a Christening, but as we become a more secular society naming ceremonies are growing in popularity. For our family it was a deep spiritual need to present Ewan to the earth, for the world to recognise him.
‘It takes a village to raise a child’
This African proverb became a fitting choice for the planning and running of the ceremony, as well as for Ewan’s upbringing. We included on the inside cover of the order of ceremony booklets. The day was raised from an idea to an actuality thanks to the massive efforts of so many! The British Humanist Society’s (BHA) ‘New Arrivals’ booklet proved invaluable to us, providing sample ceremonies, suggested readings and music. We support Humanist philosophy, which celebrates humanity and our human values in order to help each other and the world. My brother, a member of the BHA, offered to be the celebrant. We were fortunate to have a family member to take on this role, which involved leading the ceremony. However, many families arrange for a registered celebrant to host their event; they can be hired from the BHA, at the local registrar’s office or by some commercial organisations.
Naming ceremonies can be held anywhere, including at the local registrar’s office, in a commercial venue or at home. We decided to hold ours in the local village hall, a great way to connect with our local community whilst providing a more formal environment than home. This venue offered the sixty guests, including fifteen children, enough room to relax, eat and socialise. Having access to the kitchen enabled us to host a communal meal, with each guest offering a dish of food. The buffet became the focal point to the party and a wonderful way of involving everyone.
Planning for the big day took a lot of time. Using the expertise of family members guaranteed the involvement of many and the creation of a very personal occasion. It also kept costs low. For instance, my mother-in-law made some lovely bunting and my Aunty made two naming cakes, one from the top tier of our wedding cake (saved from the year before!). Every guest offered their support through their presence and brought some delicious homemade food to add to the communal feast.
If you feel it is too much to go it alone, you can always enlist the help of a professional organisation whilst still retaining your own personal touch. Equally, a naming ceremony can be a far smaller, more informal gathering if this is what you desire.
A communal naming
We began by welcoming all of our guests, some of whom had travelled a long way to share this day. To have everyone in the same place at the same time was absolutely wonderful. The ceremony included four readings, including a collective reading of ‘A Celtic Blessing’ (anon) and a communal naming. My brother-in-law sang ‘Everything Possible’ by Fred Small, whilst all the guests sang the chorus, which included the lyrics ‘You can be whoever you want to be’; exactly our hopes for Ewan. This communal aspect ensured everyone was included. The ‘New Beginnings’ booklet and Susannah Steele’s poetry and reading anthology were both really useful resources, containing a large number of relevant poems, blessings and songs.
We asked my good friend Kate to be Ewan’s supporting adult, a role similar to that of a godparent. The term is suggested by the BHA, but mentor, special adult or supporter can also be used. In the ceremony Kate read a poem and formally vowed to; ‘offer friendship and sanctuary to Ewan, protecting him from harm, listening to him, encouraging and supporting him’. She was delighted to be asked and takes this role seriously.
To end the ceremony my husband and I shared our parental vows, which included; ‘we shall strive to provide Ewan with a warm, happy, secure yet adventurous childhood, where he can explore the natural world as freely as possible, and where he will be supported to develop his own opinions and beliefs about life’.
As difficult as it was to put our commitment into words, it was fantastic to share these promises. Ewan was then formally named, marked with the lighting of a candle. This symbolised the love we have for Ewan and the hopes our guests have for his future. Whilst it is not necessary to make formal vows or light a candle, most people like to mark the occasion in some special, symbolic way, be that planting a tree, giving the child a flower or singing a communal song.
A little advice
In our society it is not uncommon for members of the same family to hold differing beliefs. It can be tricky to ensure we embrace these differences without offending anyone. My father, who is a Christian, asked if he could bless Ewan by asking God to protect him. I was happy and comfortable in agreeing to him making a personal religious blessing because I knew how important that was to him.
As Becky Alexander advises ‘naming ceremonies are still fairly new in the UK so you might need to explain to friends and family how it is going to work’. For instance, a few of our guests mistakenly assumed the ceremony would be held on a Sunday, the day when Christenings take place. Also, there was some confusion about how formal the occasion would be because many people asked for advice about what to wear!
Time to party!
After the formal ceremony we celebrated with the communal buffet, cake cutting, toast and closing communal song. The children raced around the room high as kites, whilst the adults chatted and ate together, looking at the photos on the walls. We toasted Ewan’s future life, finishing by singing ‘You are my sunshine’ (by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell). Ewan was held and admired by everyone, unaware of how special this day was to his family. As the guests began to leave, we tidied away and walked home, where we opened presents, drank cups of tea and relaxed.
At the end of this wonderful day we were all ready to collapse! We had invested so much into this day, but it was well worth the effort, rewarding to see something we had created come together so well. It was a memorable, very special day and a fitting way to announce Ewan’s arrival into the world.
If you decide to hold a naming ceremony, I wish you lots of luck in doing so and hope this account has provided you with a few ideas.
This article was first published in The Green Parent magazine, issue no: 57 Date: February/March 2014
Wild camping in the woods
Wild places of the heart
Wild camping means camping amongst nature away from a managed campsite. Wild places hold a special place in my heart; after a privileged childhood spent outdoors as much as possible, and an enchanting gap year spent in the Himalayas, I continued to feel connected to the mountains at university by joining the hill-walking club. Here I met my lifelong partner, Richard, at the top of a Munro in Scotland (a mountain over 3000ft). Richard developed his passion for wild and mountainous places, learning outdoor skills after spending much of his formative youth in wild places in Scotland on school trips on Hebridean Islands. We both followed our shared passion for the outdoors by spending as much time as possible together in the mountains. We find that being within nature cleanses and rejuvenates the sole, offering us a true perspective on life and a much needed breath of fresh air.
Our first wild camp was memorable, spent on the beautiful, untamed, uninhabited island of Taransay, our window the waves crashing metres below our tent. From this we wild camped whenever possible, combining it with mountaineering trips in the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales, the English Lake District and the Alps. Wild camping offers seclusion and a rich experience of nature, the chance to really ‘get away from it all’, from society and our multi-media, high-tech, electronic age. It also brings a rich feeling of being self-sufficient and minimalist, in that you have to carry everything you need with you on your back, a rarity in our everyday lives.
Elimination Communication, or EC for short, is an alternative, more natural way of toileting babies and toddlers. It is also known as Natural Infant Hygiene or Baby-Led Potty Training (BLPT).
What it is
It is what most of the world, for almost all of human history, have intuitively practised with their offspring, just without giving it this label. It is about connecting and communicating with your baby, learning their signs and signals for when they need to go, and responding by assisting your baby in relieving themselves. To do this takes a leap of faith, both trusting your baby to communicate their toileting needs to you, and trusting yourself by really listening to your instincts. This means living in the present moment, a real challenge for many twenty-first century parents.
Parenting and EC
We parent in as gentle, natural and conscious way as we can, practising full-term nursing, bed-sharing, baby-wearing, etc. EC is simply an extension of this. I am also attracted to the minimal environmental impact of EC compared to conventional toileting of an infant. I discovered EC too late to really practise it with our son Ewan, who is now 4 and a half, but was keen to try it after our daughter Tessa was born. I did some research on-line and read a few books on the topic to support me, then decided to give it a go.
I have a love of mountains and wild places. This is something I really want to share with my children.
Ever since the birth of our son four years ago, we have taken him out with us on countless walks using our slings.
One such early trip was ascending Helvellen with him in the sling, protected by an extra large waterproof jacket, in the days before we discovered the more practical baby wearing jacket and baby wearing fleece vest.
We have always encouraged him to walk part of these walks. To start with, we let him totter about when we stopped for a break. It was great to watch him explore, under a watchful eye. As he has grown, these totters have increased to include walking short sections and when he is tired or the going gets too difficult, he has been happy to return to the sling. On the sections he walked himself, his confidence grew. He is now often climbing across rocky ground and up steps that are almost waist height for him. Continue reading Sharing a love of mountains and wild places→