To ensure a happy and prosperous future for a newborn, parents will do the darnedest things. These are just a handful of 'em.
1. Jump Over Your Baby
In parts of northern Spain, newborns participate in a ceremony that seems part Olympic track and field event, part Evel Knievel stunt. Several babies are placed on a mattress while a man long-jumps over them. The ceremony is based on the biblical story in which King Herod orders all male babies in the area to be killed after hearing that a "new king" has been born in Bethlehem. Just as Mary and Joseph escaped with baby Jesus to Egypt, this Spanish ritual is meant to symbolize a similar "danger" experience for a child. By undergoing it and emerging (hopefully) unharmed, the child is prepared for a safe passage through life.
2. Play Some Baby Hot Potato
In Bali, many natives observe a custom whereby the baby isn't allowed to touch the ground (or cradle, or whatever) for the first 105 days of the child's life. Instead, the newborn is continuously held by family members.
3. Smoke Your Baby
In Kimberley, Australia, many Aboriginal mothers still practice the art of "baby smoking." The ritual is meant to protect the child by giving it the blessing of the tribal mothers in addition to the baby's "earth mother." Branches and leaves from sacred konkerberry shrubs are burned, creating what are believed to be purifying fumes. Then the mother squeezes her breast milk into the fire, and the grandmother waves the baby through the smoke.
4. Don't Name Your Child
Many societies believe that newborns are particularly susceptible to evil spirits, and a baby's name is sometimes kept secret (or not given at all) so it can't be used against the child in spells. In some Haitian, Nigerian and Romani cultures, babies are given two names at the time of birth. Parents keep one name a secret and don't share it with the child until he's considered old enough to guard the name for himself. Similarly, in Thailand, a newborn is often referred to by a nickname to escape the attention of evil spirits, who are believed to be the ghosts of dead, childless, unmarried women. The newborn is given a two-syllable name, which is mainly used later on by teachers, employers, and during formal occasions. Some Vietnamese parents even delay naming their baby until it's more than one month old—the safety margin, spirit-wise. They also discourage anyone from complimenting the newborn; instead, they refer to the tot as "ugly" or "rat" to deter evil spirits, who prefer harassing attractive babies.
5. Cut the Cord (then Bury it in a Special Place)
Overprotective moms, take note! The Navajo tribe of Native Americans believe that if the umbilical cord and placenta of a newborn are buried near the family's house, the child will always return home. The placenta is also sometimes buried next to objects that symbolize the profession the parents hope their child will pursue, which may explain the spike in buried stethoscopes found all across the land.