The compadre (literally, "co-father" or "co-parent") relationship between the parents and godparents of a child is an important bond which originates when a child is baptized in Hispanic families. The abstract noun compadrazgo ("co-parenthood") is sometimes used to refer to the institutional relationship between compadres.
From the moment of a baptism ceremony, the godparents (godfather and godmother, padrino and madrina in Spanish) share the parenting role of the baptised child with the natural parents. By Catholic doctrine, upon the child's baptism the padrinos accept the responsibility to ensure that the child is raised according to the dictates of the Catholic faith and to ensure the child pursues a life of improvement and success (through education, marriage, personal development, and so forth).
At the moment of baptism, the godparents and natural parents become each others' compadres. (The plural form Compadres includes both male and female co-parents.) The female equivalent of compadre is comadre. Thus, the child's father will call the child's godmother "comadre," while she will call him "compadre," and so on.
Traditionally among Latin Americans, this relationship formalizes a pre-existing friendship which results in a strong lifelong bond between compadres. In its truest form, the compadre relationship becomes as strong a bond as the relationship between natural siblings or between a father or mother and his child. In many Latin American societies, life-long friends or siblings who have always spoken to each other informally (using the informal Spanish second-person, tú) will mark their new compadre relationship by using respectful or formal speech (the formal Spanish second-person, Usted).
There are a number of other ritual occasions that are considered to result in a compadre relationship in various Latin American societies. These may include ritual sponsorship of other Catholic sacraments (first communion, confirmation, and marriage); sponsorship of a quinceañera celebration; and, in Peru, sponsorship of a ritual first haircut ceremony that normally takes place when a child turns three years old.
Compadrazgo has its roots in medieval European Catholicism. The Doge of Venice Pietro II Orseolo worked all his life for creating solid contacts with the contemporary monarchs, achieving good relationships with the Byzantine Empire. On the other hand, he approximated to Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor and eventually named him literally with the title of Compadre, which meant "the father of the Venecian Doge's children". Otto specially liked this, and became the children's godfather.
The classic Spanish novel Don Quixote (1605–1615) contains several references to compadres; however, the compadre relationship has much less formal meaning in modern Spain where it is a reference both to a godfather/ padrino or just to a best friend that didn't participate in any ritual. The expression is in use particularly in southern Spain. In medieval England, parents and godparents called each other "godsibs" (that is, "God siblings"). The only trace of this old Catholic English practice in modern English is the word gossip, presumably a reference to the propensity of close companions such as compadres to chat and gossip with one another. In Spanish, the verb comadrear (from comadre) similarly means "to gossip."
The term compadre has been extended in some regions to describe a relationship between two good friends. In Argentina and Paraguay, the word is used in popular speech (especially in the diminutive, compadrito) to mean "braggart, loud-mouth, bully." However, for many Latin Americans and Latinos, the word retains its original meaning and symbolism, and for them there is no greater honor than to be asked to be a padrino or compadre.
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