Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The postponed Baptism…

Gabriel was now twenty-nine months old and still had not been baptized. Marc had been christened at nine months and Nina at sixteen months, but we still had no plans. We had not wanted to overlap with other family celebrations, in Gabriel’s first year there was the summer wedding of Jean and Nora. The next year we had my sister’s February wedding in England. Finally we had a year free of weddings. Marc and Nina were doing catechism, the Catholic classes that prepare children for their First Communion and they frequently asked me when Gabriel would be baptized.

We had christened Marc in England and Nina in France, so where should we do Gabriel? I had originally thought of Chorleywood, in England where we previously lived, with maybe a joint christening with my sister, who lived nearby but it seemed such a long time since we lived there and we would need someone to organize the whole celebration on our part. Jayne had a young baby to take care of and my mother had been sick and I didn’t want to throw planning a christening onto her. Then by chance we heard from Jacques’ mother that the church in our village, Caunay, would be open on the 1st of May for a special service. Village churches are closed these days, but the prêt or minister goes round each village, opening the church once or twice a year. I felt this was a sign from God. Jacques had proposed to me on the 1st of May in 1996 and it seemed like a lucky day.

Within hours the prêt had provisionally agreed, since he knew several members of the Hauwaert clan, and agreed to email us the church documents. Jacques’ mother found a small chateau that we could hire for the whole Sunday, with a garden area for the kids to play and a kitchen where we could prepare food. A few days later we informed the family and asked my English friend Rachel to be the godmother, alongside Jacques’ brother as godfather, Jean. Rachel had visited us several times in Chorleywood and we all liked her, plus she had studied French and spoke it very well so she would not feel out-of-place in the ceremony.

We flew to France the week before, and whizzed around finding a caterer, patissier for the cake and rooms in the local bed and breakfast for my parents, sister, her baby, Brayden, now six months and Rachel. I was nervous how it would all work especially since I would meet my sister’s baby for the first time. But when I picked them up at the airport on a sunny Friday there was a nice atmosphere, and later we ate a huge dinner at Jacques parents in the evening, with everyone reminiscing about previous christenings. A family friend, Nicole, the mother of Nina’s godfather, helped decorate the church and prepare the tables. In all we were about twenty-five.

Gabriel ready for his Bapteme, with Nina and cousin Manon

The Sunday ceremony was beautiful, very simple with poems and passages from the Bible chosen by us. The sun shone through the stained glass window and Gabriel, dressed in a cream linen suit, accepted to have water and oil poured on his head. The cousins gathered around holding lit candles and participating in the service. Jacques and I spoke about our links to Caunay and how we wanted Gabriel to be part of the community. The day flew by and after a long lunch we stayed till ten at the chateau, sipping wine and enjoying the spring air. I gave each guest a bag of blue almonds or dragees, as was the tradition in France, and a lily-of-the-valley flower or muguet, which is given for good luck on May 1st. I flew back with my family on the Monday and spent a pleasant week in England with Nina and Gabriel. I felt very proud of both families and how we had managed to have three perfect christenings with no problems, but that was an illusion, as I was soon to find out…

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