The Sebou Ceremony: Bringing a modern Egyptian baby into the world

The Sebou Ceremony
Welcoming a New Born Baby in Egypt

By Heba Fatteen Bizzari

A new born Egyptian baby at the Sebou Ceremony proper

Welcoming a new born in Egypt is accompanied with pride and great joy. There is a special significance associated with the divine blessing of both the father and the mother who have just sealed the sacred union of their marriage and ensured the continuation of their family's line of descendants.

The Sebou (meaning the seventh) is one of Egypt's oldest and most cherished celebrations. The family gathers a week after the birth of a baby of either sex by either Coptic or Muslim families from all status-groups, rural and urban.

The birth rituals traditionally start with the pregnancy period itself. First-born sons continue to be particularly desired in the Egyptian culture. "The family makes sure that wishes are made and alms are paid to the poor. They carry out a list of events from visiting shrines to slaughtering lamb and sheep," said Malak Yakan, an anthropologist.

The doll is used as a symbol to announce that the new baby is a girl. For a boy, they use a doll on a horse

If the mother looks healthy, full of life and happy it is assumed that she is expecting a boy. If her face and body are covered with rashes or there is discoloring or redness, then the mother is thought to carry a girl. By the time the mother is six months along in the pregnancy, the shape of her belly is thought to indicate the gender of the future baby. "Perfectly round bellies indicated a boy while those that are not predict a girl. The celebrations starts from the time the family becomes aware of the gender of their baby," added Yakan.

By the seventh month, the womens parents are responsible for preparing the clothes and other baby items. According to Yakan "The number seven is considered important to the Egyptians because it is considered a lucky number. Normally, seven sets of clothes, socks, hats for boys and small scarves for girls, diapers, are made and sent as gifts to the baby."

Earrings, necklaces and bracelets of gold are bought for the girls. Talisman, written prayer rolls that are sometimes placed in gold or silver cases decorated with precious stones are also bought for the baby for protection against the evil eye, bad spirits, and diseases. "These would be pinned down to the babies clothes or placed in the bed or close to the baby," said Yakan.

One of the candles used in the ceremony and carred by the family, with a basket to hold the child and move it from side to side as part of the ritual in the background.

The family makes sure that other essentials like soap, cleansing powder, herbal medicine and powdered, crystallized sugar (nabat) are placed in small white bags, made from silk if they can afford to do so. The new mother and her husbands family are notified in advance for delivery time of these gifts, and once everything is ready, all of the items are placed in bags with candies and sweets like nougat, gold and silver coins in between the items.

Once the baby is born, it is washed in warm water and dressed in a long white cotton dress. "A specially blessed safety pin with prayers is normally attached to the headgear to frighten the bad spirits," added Yakan.

A brass bowl and brass beater is used to make loud sounds next to the baby. This is called a hoan.

On the seventh day, the Sebou celebration starts with the baby taking a bath and then getting dressed in a new outfit. The mother and the women of the family are responsible for preparing a feast and cooking the Aqiqah (the slaughtered sheep or lamb). The event starts by scattering salt on the mother and around the house to keep the evil eye away. Then, the baby is placed in a decorated container where he or she is taken for a tour in the family home, followed by members of the family carrying candles, said Yakan.

During this ceremony, the mother the steps over the baby seven times without touching it, while older women make loud noises to make the baby aware of sounds. Grandparents shake the baby horizontally and give him orders to obey only their family added Yakan.

Finally after the meal, the bags full of candies, sweets, nougat, gold and silver coins are distributed to all attendees.

Through it all, the baby seems somewhat unimpressed

Through it all, the baby seems somewhat unimpressed

Traditionally, this occasion was used for naming the newborn children, circumcising boys and piercing the ears of girl