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Mom in Translation: A Haircut Like No Other

A mom deals with a litany of questions for her son's first haircut

Published on: July 07, 2017


Depending on whom you ask, your child’s first haircut is a pretty big deal.

“He stopped looking like a baby when we cut his hair,” one friend told me.

“She wailed nonstop throughout it. It was traumatic,” said another.

“His hair is short as it is; we kept going back and forth on whether to even get it cut,” added one more.

I wish these were the concerns on my mind as I considered my son’s first haircut. But unfortunately, the contemplations proved — like my son Veer’s first taste of honey — to be a long and drawn-out process. 

Among practicing Hindus like my family, a baby’s first haircut is an important rite of passage. Traditions that are easily accessible in India and other parts of Asia, where my husband and I have our roots, can often prove challenging with balancing the practicalities of our life in America.

The checklist to have this haircut run smoothly is long: At the very least, it involves a priest, a barber, a holy fire and, for good measure, a little holy water, too.

Known as the mundan ceremony, the baby’s head is shaved on an auspicious date. It’s not just to remove pesky hairs flying into the child’s eyes (although that is a bonus). We believe that shaving the head rids the baby of negative energy from his past life and sets him up for a happy life ahead. You can see why this tradition isn’t taken too lightly in practicing Hindu households.

The topic of Veer’s mundan has repeatedly come up in our home. On my side of the family, the ceremony is performed right around the first birthday. For my husband’s family, it’s after the child celebrates his or her third Vaisakhi (spring harvest). (I tripled-checked this fact with my mother-in-law, so desperate am I for a resolution.)

What’s seen as a fact of life where I’m from is considered a novelty here. 

I was especially anxious to get Veer’s hair cut as he was born with a full head of hair that’s only grown thicker and longer with each passing month. Having lots of hair is typical for most ethnically South Asian babies, but here in America, my son’s luscious, uncut locks get frequent comments from non-Asian Americans. What’s seen as a fact of life where I’m from is considered a novelty here. 

With visions of hair-pulling in daycare and general discomfort racing through my head, I explored other options, but like other parents balancing multiple cultures, the litany of questions seemed never-ending: Should there be a priest involved? Do we make the trek to a Hindu temple in Bothell, or try to head to my husband’s ancestral home in Punjab, India, after Veer’s first birthday? Or third birthday? Should we wait for an auspicious time for the first cut, or just pick a Saturday afternoon that’s convenient? 

During the inevitable debates on how to proceed, we made many a long-distance phone call to my mom in Singapore and my husband’s mom in Dubai. Soon, spring turned into summer. Finally, with his first birthday fast-approaching and the confusion still looming, we were forced to make a choice.

Our decision: Take Veer for a trim after his first birthday this July and save some of that hair for a mundan ceremony to be performed by a Hindu priest after his third birthday. We’ll continue to take him for trims until that time and eventually have his hair shaved off during the traditional ceremony.

While it’s not the way it’s done back home, it’ll a compromise between all the cultures we’re balancing as immigrants to America.

That just leaves me with the question any parent has to contend with when planning a first haircut: Where’s a good place to go, preferably with plenty of post-trim lollipops on hand? I’m open to recommendations!

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