03/20/2013 10:18 am ET Updated May 20, 2013

What's the Difference Between a Bris and a Baptism?

Recently, all of my friends started having babies. As in, all of them at once! So, babies suddenly became a theme in our conversations where they hadn't been before. And, in the midst of it all, I realized that I have a lot to bone up on if I'm going to be prepared for all of the showers, parties and religious ceremonies associated with this influx of little people. When I started my research I came across "naming ceremonies" and had no idea that these even existed. I'm sure I went to some when I was younger, but as far as rules go I am totally clueless. Which one means what? What do you do when? So, in an attempt to help all of us understand the basics of baby ceremonies, I thought I would start with the questions that I have been asking myself.

What other questions do you have? Are there other ceremonies that I should address?

What exactly is the difference between a baptism and a christening?
When I asked a friend who had grown up a strict Catholic, he replied nonchalantly that they were interchangeable. Could this possibly be true? After doing some investigating, it turns out that it is and it isn't. Christening is traditionally the naming ceremony, and a baptism is the initiation into Christianity through a ritual pouring or immersion of water. They have since combined into one ceremony for the little ones. One thing to note is that a baptism, while most commonly performed on an infant, can also be performed on an adult who wants to convert. An infant baptism usually happens within the first few weeks or months of birth, but there's no exact timeframe.

The purpose of this baby ceremony is to cleanse the newborn of original sin. Not that a baby is sinful, but it's the church's way of recognizing the inevitable sins that humans commit during their lifetime. A clergyman performs this ceremony on both boys and girls, either during mass or in a private ceremony in the church, followed by a reception. The baby, girl or boy, is traditionally dressed up in a fancy white outfit that looks like a tiny frilly gown. Baby's first black tie! As for gifts, guests can give something that relates to the baby's future or their new religion. One might give a baby their first prayer book or something in silver, like a rattle or a spoon. A frame or a child's necklace with a cross pendant would make good gifts, as well. Another route some choose, like my grandparents did, is to give money or savings bonds as investments in the child's future.

What exactly is a bris?

A bris is a Jewish ceremony where a baby receives his Hebrew and secular name and is also circumcised by a mohel in a procedure called brit milah. Given the nature of the latter, this ceremony is clearly a "boys only" club. A bris is performed eight days after birth and can take place in a synagogue or at the home. A bris can consist of your twenty closest relatives and friends or can be as big as a large wedding. But no one is invited. No, really. People are "informed." Just to be clear, the baby is nameless until this point. The reason for this is because oftentimes the secular and Hebrew names are the same, so if you give one away, the cat's out of the bag on the other. After the ceremony, comes the celebration. This usually takes place in a social hall at the synagogue or at the home. Gifts for a bris are any cute baby gifts for a boy.

...And what about the girls?

While there wasn't always a naming ceremony for newborn girls in the Jewish tradition, there has been for the last couple of decades. It's called zeved habat, and it's really not much different than the ceremony for boys. Of course, there's no circumcision, but the girls' Hebrew and secular names are announced. The ceremony takes place during a service or at home, and is followed with a reception. It is generally done between 1 and 2 weeks after birth, but there's no precise day that it needs to take place. As for gifts, you are good to go with any cute baby girl gifts.

So, next time you get invited to a christening and you're wondering why you weren't invited to the baptism too, think again. You were! Happy baby season!

Dana Holmes is a lifestyle, gift and etiquette expert who acts as Editor in Chief of and the Gift Rap Blog. She has been working in trend forecasting and gift recommendations for the past decade. Dana loves making occasions special with her unique gift ideas, tips and touches. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, Associated Press, Fox & Friends, TODAY in NY and many more.