The Important Role Of Godparents In The Latino Community

October 08, 2014 : Tracy López

Ed note: Selecting godparents may be quite easy, or may be an incredibly thoughtful process. Your approach may say a lot about the culture you were raised in. Tracy Lopez of Latinaish is here to spell out some of the ways godparents are a special and important part of Latin American culture. We’ll also review some potential godparent responsibilities.

A godparent is often an honorary title in Anglo-American culture, their main responsibility being participation in the baptism ceremony. In Latin American culture, it is quite the opposite. Godparents are involved in many aspects of the child’s life ­– for their entire life.

For most Latin Americans and Latinos in the U.S., the tradition of “padrinos” (the Spanish word for godparents), is taken very seriously. Being selected and accepting the honor means being a big part of the child’s life and upbringing.

Historically, the godparent role originated with the religious practice of baptizing a child into the faith. Baptism of some form is common in many religions, but the baptism of infants and children is most commonly associated with Catholicism and other Christian denominations.

How do you choose godparents for your child?

In the Latino community, the godparents are not just padrinos, but also share a special bond with the parents of the child as “compadres” or “co-parents.” A good padrino (godfather) and madrina (godmother) should be:

  • Someone you are close to and trust.
  • Loving, nurturing, responsible and dependable.
  • Someone who is a good role model for your child, spiritually and otherwise.

The Catholic Church has very specific requirements for godparents. Since there are rules regarding a godparent’s age, faith and marital status, it’s best to speak with your priest before offering the role to anyone.

Has someone asked you to be a godparent? Before accepting, know that with the honor comes responsibility. Duties vary from country to country and depend on each individual family’s traditions, but some of the most common responsibilities associated with being a compadre and padrino include:

  • Purchasing the child’s christening gown and candle for the ceremony. Sometimes a gift such as gold jewelry or a rosary is expected for the child. Christening gowns can cost anywhere from $60 to $200 or more. Gold jewelry for babies on this occasion can be just as expensive as the christening gown, but baptism rosaries can be found for $20 or less. Simple baptism candles typically cost no more than a few dollars.
  • Holding the baby during the baptism ceremony.
  • Buying the child a birthday gift each year, ($20 – $40 annually on average.)
  • Buying the child an Easter basket each year, ($10 – $20 annually on average.)
  • Being a good friend to the parents.
  • Attendance at family functions and holiday gatherings.
  • Serving as a sort of intermediary when the child and parents go through difficult phases with each other.
  • Participation in future religious ceremonies such as confirmations, first communions, quinceañeras and weddings.
  • Serving as a good role model for the child.
  • Understanding that there’s a difference between being a child’s spiritual godparent through the church and being a legally responsible guardian. If the parents request that you raise the child should anything happen to them, and if you accept this responsibility, this agreement must be dictated in a legal document known as a Living Will.

In addition to the traditional responsibilities, a thoughtful gesture as a godparent would be to create a college fund for the child – either by saving money in an interest-earning account or by purchasing Savings Bonds. Even a few hundred dollars saved over the years makes a valuable graduation gift for a college-bound godchild. Talk with a financial adviser at your local bank to find out which option is best for you.

Because godparents play such a vital role in a child’s upbringing, it’s important to choose individuals who will take their role seriously, follow through on their duties, and most importantly, be there for your child as a devoted co-parent for many years to come.

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Tracy López

Tracy López

Guest Contributor

Tracy is a freelance writer and Editor in chief of Latinaish.com, a Latin American language and culture blog.