Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Kind of Party?

The birth of a child is a joyous occasion. Boy or girl, people delight in a new baby, and the newness and freshness of life. The beauty and innocence of a baby is appreciated by all, and the new child brings an endless source of blessings from relatives, friends, and neighbors alike.

The First Celebration

Jews celebrate in all kinds of ways. For any birth, some people make a "kiddush" in shul on a Sabbath after the baby is born (sometimes weeks or months after the birth).

After the birth of a boy, some will have a celebration in the home on Friday night.

[Some have a similar celebration after the birth of a girl, but this is more likely due to an influence of the need for equality of the sexes in modern times. The truth is that any symbolic parties surrounding the birth of a baby boy relate to the fact the he will be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. The Torah thoughts shared, the spirituality brought to the celebrations are meant to serve as "protectors" for him, so his bris will be successful and without incident.

As a girl is thankfully not circumcised, these celebrations are not relevant and can happen at any time.]

The Bris Itself

As a bris is the fulfillment of a commandment, the meal associated with it is considered a "seudat mitzvah," a meal celebrating the commandment. Just as we prepare a festive meal for a wedding, for a bar or bat mitzvah, and for a siyum [read about the laws of a siyum from my friend Rabbi Dr. Aaron Ross], it is customary to prepare a festive meal for a bris.

How Elaborate?

It's a matter of taste, size of guest list, and - of course - budget.

[It should go without saying, but just to be sure: in accordance with Jewish tradition and practice, all food at a bris should be kosher.]

**** Taste ****

If you are the all-out type (or if the baby's grandparents want to sponsor and that is their personality), then the party could be as big as a bar mitzvah or wedding. I have presided over brisses where the entire meal followed a "theme." Often enough there are generic "baby boy" themes - such as stuffed animals, balloons and lots of blue. I have also seen themes that include: a jungle, a sports team (the father was a big fan), a sports theme (athletic family), and ninjas (???).

While brisses more often take place in the morning and consist of bagels, eggs and other breakfast foods, it is not out-of-place to have a meat meal to celebrate the occasion. In the US, a meat meal will not usually go over well for breakfast, however, so those who prefer a meat meal will more often do a lunchtime bris or a dinner time bris. [All of these are fine, as long as the circumcision itself takes place during daylight hours.]

More on the extent of this in the "Budget" section below.

On the other hand, if you are the simple-type, and want to be classy but not over the top, providing bagels and spreads (cream cheeses, tuna fish, lox, etc), salads, with cakes and pastries and drinks is respectable.

**** Size of Guest List ****

Who will be participating?

There is an old custom not to "invite" people to a bris due to the belief that the spirit of Elijah the prophet is in attendance. Were people to be invited and not come, this would seem as an affront to the prophet. But if they are merely informed that "the bris will take place at such and such time and place" they are not declining any invitation if they don't show up.

Regardless, people generally have a good idea of who will be there.

** A More Intimate Crowd **

If the bris will take place in a home, the rules of the home will usually trump all else. You do what is in your style. Your guests are usually family and really close friends, so whatever you choose to do will work just fine.

Some people order all the food on platters from a caterer. Others have family and friends pitch in. In either case, everyone participating knows you and loves you and are happy enough just to be there.

** In a synagogue - with drop-ins **

If a family has the bris right after the morning services (Shacharit) in a synagogue, there is always a chance that people who were not informed about the bris may come. A bris is considered a community celebration, and people are happy to stay to join in the festive occasion.

A bris in a synagogue is usually a bigger affair than at home anyway, but in some cases, the number of guests could end up being over 100 people. Knowing that you'll be feeding that many people (and in some cases, their children), it is important to think in advance of how much food is necessary to feed that many people, and then to consider how much of the food you are ordering is essential (the bagels), versus how much is excessive (the omelet stations and all of the hot food).

Of course, if you are writing a blank check to a caterer, none of this matters.

**** Budget ****

When doing a bris outside of one's home, a number of things need to be considered when budgeting for a bris:

* Rental cost of the space. This may even apply in a synagogue
* Caterer (in the case of some synagogues, you may not bring in any food: it all must come from the caterer)
* Additional people who may drop in
* dairy versus a meat meal
* Do you want to save costs by making some of the food, or having friends or relatives bring food? If so, you probably won't be having the bris in a synagogue.

Time of day may help change some factors. During the day, you'll have fewer drop-ins. But you might opt for a meat meal. Also, people who come might stay a while and may look for second helpings of food.

Some Final Suggestions

If money is no object, then make a party that is respectable, memorable for you, and which demonstrates your appreciation to God for having blessed you with a child.

If money is a concern, you may want to see if any relatives (ie. baby's grandparents) want to chip in something to the cause.

Consider different venues, not just because of cost but because of what works for you and your baby. If you don't want the baby leaving the house, have the bris at home.

If you have lots of "peripheral friends" who will celebrate because "everyone loves a bris," it is also possible to give them a respectable display of "food for the road" such as coffee and cakes, juices and fruit, while you have the celebratory meal with just closer friends and family in a different location, or after the 'uninvited' guests leave.

With a little foresight, everything will work out just fine. And with the help of those nearest and dearest to you, it will be as stress-free as possible.

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