ALTHOUGH THE PATTERNS and customs of daily life in Venezuela vary greatly according to region and socioeconomic group, for the considerable majority of Venezuelans the extended family continues to play the central role. These permanent and closely knit relationships, incorporating cousins and often more distant relatives, are invariably the main source of whatever support and assistance the individual may require, such as financial aid or help in finding employment, as well as the focal point for much of his or her social life. Kinship ties and compadrazgo—the naming of godparents for children in the family, still widely practiced—provide a further layer of relationships, so that most Venezuelans are immersed in a wide network of personal ties throughout their lives. Modern urban patterns of life have obviously affected the way these relationships are conducted, but they remain a vitally important component of everyday life.
Contact between family members is generally very regular, centering on frequent visits, meals, and parties, but it is the big occasions marking the major stages in life, such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals, that bring the extended family together and cement relationships. There are some distinctive rituals attached to these ceremonies, such as the custom of baptizing babies twice. Traditionally, a baby was first baptized informally by family members shortly after birth, with padrinos de agua (water godparents) sprinkling holy water over the infant. This was to ensure that should the baby die before formal baptism by the Church, he or she would still have received the sacrament. The formal baptism, sometimes involving different godparents, would take place several months later. Though disappearing in the large