‘Born with a Silver Spoon’ 

The idea of giving children special gifts for their baptism and name-giving ceremony is said to have its origin in the offerings made to the baby Jesus by the three Oriental Kings. It is, however, highly probable that the custom of gift-giving for the auspicious occasion of naming a child was traditional amongst all nations of antiquity and did not originate with the Nativity.

Silver has always been considered a luck-bringing metal, resistant and invulnerable to all enchantment, its shielding powers unable to be deflected by magical means. It was thought to be one of the most potent precious metals with powerful protective qualities, therefore especially suitable for infants on the celebration of their baptism.

A custom going back to fifteenth-century Europe was for a child’s godparents to give presents in the form of silver cups and spoons. The specific spoons given to children at the name-giving ceremony were called Apostle Spoons, as the figures of the twelve apostles were usually depicted on the tops of the handles. Some sets consist of an extra thirteenth spoon dedicated to Jesus. Shakespeare refers to these customary gifts in Henry VIII. When Cranmer professes to be unworthy of being sponsor or godparent to the young princess, King Henry replies, ‘Come, come, my Lord, you’d spare your spoons….’130 Depending on their means, godparents generally gave one or two spoons as gifts. If, however, a child was fortunate enough to have rich godparents, they would traditionally give all twelve or thirteen silver spoons, hence the saying, ‘To be born with a silver spoon in the mouth’, implying someone born into favourable circumstances.

Curiously, in past centuries, carved wooden spoons were frequently given as tokens of love and affection in England and other parts of northern Europe. Acceptance of such a token by a young woman generally meant confirmation of love returned. The tops of these spoon handles were intricately carved with select symbols, each having a specific meaning. For example, the heart-emblem meant ‘my heart is yours’, a carved chain signified ‘together forever’, and vines intricately entwined into the handle sent the message ‘love grows’. Such ‘love spoons’ can still be occasionally found as valuable collectibles in select gift shops and antique shops. 


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