A very special Navajo first laugh ceremony

A’wee Chi’deedloh means baby laughed in Navajo. The Navajo first laugh ceremony is an important transition in a Navajo baby’s life.

Growing up Navajo, this ceremony was part of my culture and life experience. I had a first laugh ceremony as a baby, as did my mother, and her mother.

It’s a special and important tradition that has been passed down through many generations of Navajo people. As my mom put it when I asked her, since the beginning of time.

Navajo babies belong to the Holy People

Before Navajo babies can talk or laugh, they belong to the Holy People or Diyin Dine’é in Navajo. They are part of two worlds: the spirit world and the physical world that we inhabit.

The Holy People are the ultimate protectors of the Navajo people. They take care of the Navajo baby up until the first laugh, in a spiritual sense.

Laughing and crying are gifts given to us from Diyin Dine’é, the Holy People.

We Are Navajo

When the baby feels comfortable with his or her family, the baby will laugh.

Amongst Navajo people, there always seems to be a competition of who makes baby laugh. Will it be mom? Will it be grandma? No one knows!

A Navajo baby laughs

Once a Navajo baby laughs, he or she has arrived into this world. This is a true cause for ceremonial celebration.

navajo first laugh ceremony
My little girl in her Navajo dress and sash belt.

When I spoke to my mom about this, she said the ceremony should happen quickly after the first laugh. We waste no time in having this celebration.

It is a celebration of a child growing up, living a happy life, and adopting the virtues of generosity and gratitude. There is nothing more important than living in this way and by these virtues.

Above all, it is a time of thankfulness, gratitude, and giving.

A baby that goes through this ceremony will continue to give to others throughout his or her life.

Navajo first laugh ceremony

At the first laugh ceremony, the Navajo baby hosts the party and shows his or her generosity by throwing a giveaway.

In the old days, the baby gave away rock salt from a traditional Navajo basket. Back then, rock salt was a hot commodity. It was not something that people came across too often.

Today, a baby still gives away rock salt and will also give away other items, such as sweets, candy, and soda. I recently went to my cousin’s baby’s first laugh ceremony and the baby gave away small bags of goodies for all the guests.

What you give away doesn’t have to be big or fancy as long as it comes from the heart. My mom explains that rock salt symbolizes the giving of something.

You don’t need a big celebration. In her words, you cook and you give out rock salt.

So, at the ceremony, the baby (with the help of a parent or the person who made them laugh) will bless the rock salt and any other food or gift in a Navajo basket and hand it to a guest. 

The traditional Navajo basket represents the circle of life and is used as a way of blessing everything.

My baby’s first laugh ceremony

I will never forget my baby’s Navajo first laugh ceremony. All of our family and friends showed up to the laughing party and we had an amazing time.

My mom does a lot of sewing as a hobby and she sewed gifts for the Navajo elders that arrived. Navajo elders are sacred and they were there not just as family members but as guides.

As people lined up to receive rock salt, I helped my daughter hand over gifts to guests. Truly, I was overwhelmed at that moment. I could feel the pride of everyone who has gone through this ceremony with their children before me.

navajo first laugh ceremony
My baby is blessing the rock salt before we give it away
navajo first laugh ceremony
Mommy and her baby

To be able to watch my daughter go through a ceremony that I went through as a baby touches my mommy heart. It was truly a celebration of my little girl’s life and absolutely incredible.

What gift do you give at a Navajo laughing party?

I always see this question come up because it’s assumed that we have to bring a gift to a party. For a traditional laugh ceremony, there is no need to bring a gift for the baby. Why? The ceremony is about celebrating the baby’s coming into this world and the person who is throwing the party will give food and candy to the guests.

If you feel that you must bring a gift, it is very appropriate to bring something small, a gesture of appreciation for being invited to the laughing party. When we hosted my second daughter’s laugh party, I did not expect to receive any gifts because it was a traditional laugh party. A few guests brought additional food dishes, like a fruit tray and pasta salad, which I really appreciated. One guest gave my daughter a small turquoise bracelet, which was touching.

Now, I have seen a more modern trend, which is to combine a Navajo laugh party with a baby shower, which is what we did with my first daughter’s laugh party. If your invitation states that the host is combining the laugh party with a baby shower, then it is totally appropriate to bring a gift. The gift would be what you would normally bring to a baby shower. Keep in mind that most Navajos host baby showers after the baby is born, therefore the parents will already have most of the necessities for infant care.

Final thoughts on Navajo first laugh ceremony

The first laugh ceremony is very special in my family. When a Navajo baby is born and laughs for the first time, it is a cause for true celebration.

In becoming a mother, I’m truly grateful that I get to be a part of these moments in my daughter’s life and pass these traditions down for generations to come.

3 thoughts on “A very special Navajo first laugh ceremony”

  1. hello Nikki 🙂
    my name is Beatriz and I’m a Portuguese illustrator and animator.

    I found your blog and photos because I’m looking for Navajo people who could review a drawing I’m doing. I was asked to illustrate a very short article for a kids’ magazine about A’wee Chi’deedloh Navajo tradition, but the editors didn’t give me any visual references and I’m relying my knowledge on some pictures I found online…

    If you could chat a bit and review my drawing (just telling me if there’s anything you think is wrong with it) OR recommend me someone that you think could do that, I would appreciate it a lot 🙂

    hope to hear from you !
    all the best,
    — bia

  2. Obviously I would never try to re-create this tradition as I know these are closed practices, but discovering that this ceremony exists made me smile today! Laughter is so important to our physical, mental, spiritual and social health well being, and predates language in human evolution. It should be celebrated in every way possible! What a wonderful, uniquely beautiful concept to celebrate baby’s first laugh!
    Blessings, Liv. 🙂

  3. One aspect of giving salt (rock salt) that is no longer mentioned is that salt was once a precious commodity, for it was hard to acquire and was needed to season food, such as gruel, and was used as a preservative. Thus, it is more than an act of the baby’s generosity. There is a dry lake bed near Zuni that was a key source. In order to survive, Navajo ancestors made good use of salt in order to preserve foods that were essential to survival over the lean times.


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