Why every Navajo baby's first laugh is celebrated
Originally published on January 17, 2020.
Jaclyn Roessel sometimes offers a piece of advice to non-Navajo people: don't tickle a Navajo baby.
That is, unless you want to get stuck with making dinner for the baby and their entire family.
A Navajo baby's first laugh is sacred — it is a symbol of welcoming the child into the greater Navajo community. The person who makes the child laugh for the first time has been chosen as the one who welcomes them with a feast for them and their family.
"As we all know, in Indigenous communities, family is a very big thing," Roessel said.
Roessel is the founder and director of Grownup Navajo, an organization that helps integrate Native American and Navajo teachings into museums, government departments and non-profits.
The laughing ceremony is one of those teachings, but it's also something Roessel has first-hand experience with — she was the one who made her niece laugh for the first time.
"This whole ceremony is really meant to show the baby how we're supposed to be as Diné, as very generous people," Roessel said.
This whole ceremony is really meant to show the baby how we're supposed to be as Diné, as very generous people.- Jaclyn Roessel- Jaclyn Roessel
Unrefined rock salt is a key part of the meal, Roessel explained, and is eaten first as a reminder of the Diné's first meal and connection to the Earth.
The child is also given a gift of turquoise. The child doesn't wear turquoise up until the laughter ceremony, when it's gifted to them.
Roessel gifted her niece a turquoise necklace.
"It's this beautiful moment, an exchange of also saying that this is how we honour our holy people," she said. "They keep us protected because we wear this stone."
The stone also pays homage to the male part of the Diné people. "We have this fluid identity … we believe we're both women and men, feminine and masculine," she said. "We wear turquoise to honour the male side through Father Sky."
It's a special ceremony to Roessel — and one she was honoured to provide for her niece — but it can be harmful to the wallet.
"My aunties would tease, 'make sure you have a payday coming if you're going to be playing with the baby,' because you have to provide food," Roessel said. "We believe that you do so with a very generous and open heart."