War And Peace - question about baptism scene

“War and Peace”, part 4, the very end of Chapter 9. There is a scene where Prince Andrew’s infant son is being baptized. Here is the description of the scene.

The part I italicized at the very end is what I have a question about. What is the significance of the wax with the baby’s hair and whether it floats or not? Was it some omen or superstition of the time? Does it have anything to do with the mother dying during childbirth, or the fact that Prince Andrew was thought to be killed in battle and then appears at the last minute while his wife is in labor?

It is a folk custom/superstition that survives to this day. A ritual first cutting of the baby’s hair is done(usually in the shape of s cross) and the Godparent drips some of the wax from the Baptismal candle onto a few strands of the cut-off hair. This is then tossed into the font, and if it sinks it means the baby will die, and if it floats the baby will live. Of course, it (almost?) always floats because of the wax, and is seen as a good sign.

This hair-floating is not an actual part of the sacrament(not liturgical or required by the Church), but as a long-standing tradition it has become de rigueur in a lot of places. As a WAG I would say it is much less common now than it was two centuries ago.

Maybe it’s more common among Anglicans, or maybe among English of whatever sect, but this is the first time this lifelong Catholic and godfather has heard of this custom.

Agreed - I grew up Catholic and have been to plenty of baptisms and never heard of anything like that.

It’s Russian Orthodox