Today, many Jewish parents are looking for new ways to mark the birth of a baby girl. In the quest to find a pertinent ritual, parents are reexamining old practices that might have elements that could be incorporated into a more modern ceremony. One such ceremony was documented in the thirteenth century by Simcha of Vitry and is called the Hollekreisch.
The Hollekreisch ceremony was the custom in South German and Swiss Jewish communities and was influenced in large measure by German folk practices. At about the age of thirty days, the baby would be brought to the synagogue by her mother. The congregants would welcome the baby with song and the father of the child was called up to the podium to read from the Torah scroll.
All the Children Call, "Holle, Holle, What Shall Be This Child's Name?"
At the end of services, congregants would follow the family of the new baby to their home. The baby would be placed in her decorated cradle and all the children would lift the cradle three times calling, "Holle, holle, what shall be this child's name?"
After the Calling Out of the Secular Name, the Children Received Sweets
The children then called out the baby's secular name. The custom was for a Jewish child to have a Hebrew name, for ceremonial purposes, as well as a secular name for everyday use. After the calling out of the secular name, the children received sweets from the baby girl's parents. The practice was also in use for boys, but less so, since boys already had several ceremonies surrounding their births, such as ritual circumcision; the Brit Milah, Shalom Zachor; a gathering of friends the first Sabbath eve after the baby's birth, and sometimes the Pidyon HaBen; the Redemption of the Firstborn.
Scholars are unsure of the origins of the name of this ceremony. Some suggest that the ceremony has its roots in German folk legend in which a mythical figure, Holle, threatens infants. Another German folk myth describes a Frau Holle, who is a goddess responsible for bringing children down to earth. The name of the ceremony evokes a simpler explanation as well and may be thought of as a combination of two words: the Yiddish "Chol" meaning secular and referring the secular name of the baby, and the German word "Kreischen" meaning 'to shout,' which refers to the calling out of the baby's secular name.
There are documented cases of the Hollekreisch ceremony in the city of Strasbourg, until the 1950's, though the ceremony was mainly used by Jews located in rural areas.