The origins of those customs surrounding birth, death and marriage are perhaps the hardest to trace. After all, these are among the oldest and least negotiable facts of human experience (along with eating, government, inclement weather, the sense of the sacred, and, perhaps, bad sitcom reruns). When did people begin throwing rice at newlyweds? Why do newborn boys wear blue, while girls wear pink? (Before World War I, pink was a boy's color, believe it or not.) Why the pancake supper following the burial?
Here's another conundrum to join the ones mentioned above: Why is cigar smoking associated with newborns? Why do new dads give cigars away to their friends?
This tradition is a venerable one, seen often in television, movies, and books, and celebrated by generations of new dads (and, more recently, moms too!). A classic literary example occurs in Ernest Hemingway's great short story, "Indian Camp," when the narrator's Uncle George passes out cigars to the males in attendance on a Native woman's painful delivery. It's a traditional, yet creative baby announcement.
But it's hard to know exactly when, why or how this tradition started. Research uncovers various answers. A commenter at the website Cigar Blog 101 traces the custom to the era of Milton: "The custom of giving away cigars to celebrate the birth of a child had its origin in the latter part of the 17th century. Cigars were quite rare and they were to be treasured - Thus, when a man parted with a cigar it was an expression of deep emotional appreciation.
As cigars became more plentiful during the 18th century, they were frequently used as a medium of exchange. The lady of the house used her husband's cigars as a way of tipping the grocer, the butcher and other[s for] services rendered. The birth of a boy was considered an event of national importance because of the young man's value to his father and the community in general. In celebration, those [who] could afford to do so, gave their friends cigars to mark the event. In all, the gift of a cigar has always bespoken the donor's "share my happiness" and the intrinsic meaning of this gesture has not changed."
Other stories attribute the custom to the original natives of this continent, which makes its appearance in the Hemingway story (where it's attributed to the white Uncle George and to Nick Adams's father, not to the story's Native American characters) all the more ironic. Since many Native American peoples would use tobacco to mark important events, including marriages and births, it is thought that American invaders stole the custom (as they did so much else) as they moved into North America.
Another theory relies on the cigar's well-known (and frequently joked-about) symbolic association with masculinity, virility, and potency, qualities that, traditionally speaking, were sometimes thought best embodied in the ability to sire a child. (Sometimes, Dr. Freud, a cigar is not just a cigar!)
In any case, the custom is as strong as ever, rendering a box of good cigars a great newborn-baby gift idea (albeit one aimed more at the parents than at the baby). Some replace the traditional box of cigars with candy or bubblegum cigars, but unless you know your friends (the new parents) are utter cigar-haters, a box of cigars seems to make a classier new parent gift idea. As a gift idea for new fathers (or as a gift from new fathers to their friends), bubblegum doesn't quite cut it.
Also discouraged: those boxes of all-pink or all-blue novelty cigars decorated with "It's a Boy!" or "It's a Girl!" If you're familiar with the manufacturer, that's one thing, but these boxes are often made by smaller-time cigar companies using machine rollers and short- leaf, which is a tobacco filler made from bits of many leaves chopped up and blended together. High-quality premium cigars are made from entire leaves of tobacco and rolled by hand.
Moms shouldn't feel like they can't participate in this custom as well, handing out cigars to close female and male friends. In fact, with the increase in the popularity of cigars among women over the past fifteen years, it's an equal-opportunity tradition! After all, women are more often found today than ever before among the new smokers of cigars. According to one 2002 study, at least half a million American women smoke cigars' which makes sense in a country where women make 85% of buying decisions, start 70% of new businesses, and buy 50% of the products classified traditionally as "male."
Here are some instructions to keep in mind for you new moms and dads, or you friends of new moms and dads who'd like to have a little something to offer the proud parents:
1) Choose good cigars. (You only get born once!) Buy well-made, hand-rolled, long-filler cigars from a quality cigar outlet or online store. The better the cigar, the better the taste, and the more permanent the memories.
2) Speaking of taste: the outer wrapper (which gives the cigar its outer color) generally tells you how the cigar tastes. Darker outer wrappers mean sweeter taste; tan- or lighter-colored cigars are drier.
3) How to smoke: Cut off the cap of the cigar, then, using a wooden match or a butane lighter or other full flame (not a paper match), turn the end of the cigar in the flame a full 360 degrees until every part of it is lit. Don't inhale - this isn't a cigarette! Pull the smoke into your mouth and taste it thoroughly without allowing it into your lungs. Remember, it's about the taste.
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