When we look at the different nationalities and cultural groups, one thing that seems always to stay the same…difference. These groups always have their own ideas about milestones that should be celebrated. Where many people might celebrate things like the baby’s first tooth, rolling over, smile, word, crawling, steps, and such, the Navaho Indian tribes in the Southwestern United States, who call themselves Diné, have a very different idea of what should be celebrated. This tribe have picked up on the most fun part of life, as the reason for celebration…that first laugh.
We all know how great it is to hear a baby laugh for the first time. It’s great fun, and if you happened to be the one to coax that first laugh out of the baby, it’s even more fun. The Navajo believe that a baby’s first laugh demonstrates their readiness and willingness to fully join their families in life and love. The Navajo people believe that the person who makes the child laugh is also very special. That person is given a great gift…they get to plan the party. It is that tradition, and it stipulates that the person who provoked the baby’s laugh hosts a ceremony and dinner to mark the occasion. The party is called a First Laugh Ceremony (A’wee Chi’deedloh). According to Navajo national Jaclyn Roessel, “This whole ceremony is really meant to show the baby how we’re supposed to be as Diné, as very generous people.”
When I first learned about the tradition, I thought…naïvely so, that it could almost be viewed as a “punishment” for being the one that made the child laugh…depending on the financial status of the person or the size of the family that would be invited. Of course, that is silly. The Navajo people consider it an honor to be that one that brought the laughter. They become very special. I suppose it could almost be like becoming the child’s godparent. In the Navajo tradition, it goes deeper than that. The Navajo believe that newborn babies first live in the world of the Diyin Dine’e, the Holy People. Tradition has it that they stay in this temporary place before they can join their earthly families. As the tradition continues, 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. This might seem far-fetched, but many people believe that babies and children have the unique ability to see Jesus and the angels. In fact, in Christian belief, many people believe that these children, when they are seen specking to an “imaginary” friend, are actually speaking to Jesus or to their angels. The two beliefs are not really that different. I believe that the “holy people” are, in fact, Jesus and his angels.
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. I guess they have already planned fo any cost and are already planning the whole thing in their heads. Then, when that special time arrives, when that precious first laugh comes, 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!!