Baby’s First Laugh Ceremony: A Joyful Navajo Tradition of Celebrating Family
April 29, 2019 ~ By Shari Rose Updated September 13, 2020
The First Laugh Ceremony in Navajo tradition welcomes a new baby into the family with a large party that honors loved ones and the act of generosity
When a baby laughs for the first time, it is no doubt an unforgettable moment for family and friends lucky enough to be present. A baby’s first laugh can be a joyful and even reassuring sign to parents and family that this child is healthy, happy and on the way to a full life. In the Navajo tradition, a baby’s first laugh demonstrates their readiness and willingness to fully join their families in life and love.
Cultures around the world mark this milestone in different ways, sometimes with ceremonies, blessings, or parties. The Navajo people celebrate a baby’s first laugh with a special family party, called a First Laugh Ceremony (A’wee Chi’deedloh). In tradition, it is believed that the first time a Navajo baby laughs, the child is transcending their spiritual existence and is ready to live with their family in the physical world.
To properly celebrate this joyful and sacred occasion, the baby’s family invites loved ones from near and far to host a traditional Navajo First Laugh Ceremony at the home.
What A Baby’s First Laugh Signifies In Navajo Tradition
The Navajo, or Diné, believe that newborn babies first reside in the world of the Diyin Dine’e, the Holy People, before they can join their earthly families. The Diyin Dine’e are the first people, subjects of the most important myths and stories in Navajo culture. When a baby is first born, the Navajo believe the child lives among the Holy People, until the first time the baby laughs. The act of laughing is a sign the child is transitioning from the spirit world with the Diyin Dine’e and is ready to fully join his or her family in life.
Because of the significance that a baby’s first laugh holds in Navajo tradition, family members watch, wait and listen intently to hear that first utterance of a giggle. Parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents and just about anyone who is close to the family will try their best to get that first laugh, from silly faces to tickles and everything in between. And finally, the first time a baby laughs, it’s time to celebrate the journey to their earthly family and welcome this new life into the community with a Navajo First Laugh Ceremony!
What Happens During A Traditional Navajo First Laugh Ceremony
The lucky family member or friend who caused that little baby to laugh for the first time plays a very special role in the party. He or she is honored as the organizer of A’wee Chi’deedloh, the First Laugh Ceremony, where extended family and friends from all over are invited to the home to fully welcome this new life and honor his or her new family. The act of laughing has spiritual meaning in Navajo tradition. Laughing is a major step in fully understanding the meaning of k’é (kinship) among one’s own people. So, when a baby laughs for the first time, they are telling loved ones that they, too, want to love and be loved.
The Navajo’s First Laugh Ceremony is usually held within a week or so of the first time a baby laughs. The baby’s parents and the family member, friend or neighbor who inspired the child’s first laugh start planning for the party immediately, preparing food, inviting family and friends, and crafting gift bags for each guest.
More stories: The Cruelty of U.S. Migrant Detention Centers in 2020
During a Navajo First Laugh Ceremony, the baby is considered the host. With the help of his or her parents, the baby ceremonially gives each guest a plate of food, rock salt and a gift bag of goodies, as tradition holds. The Navajo place great value on generosity as a virtue, and this first act of generosity during a First Laugh Party teaches this important lesson early. In addition, by presenting a meal and small gifts to all those who attended, the baby symbolically pays respect to his or her family, both in the physical and spiritual worlds.
Like other cultures throughout the world, the Navajo celebrate a baby’s first laugh as a deeply meaningful sign in the child’s life. The act of passing through the spirit world where the Diyin Dine’e, the Holy People, reside, and into the physical world to be with one’s family and larger community is a sacred and jubilant event. The Navajo First Laugh Ceremony is a celebration of life, family, and above all, love. Welcome, baby!