As a kid, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. My church congregation was Italian; I was one of the few kids whose name did NOT end in a vowel. I was given a pass into this community because my mom was Italian, and her family had been going to that church for two generations. My mom's childhood best friend became my godmother. Her husband, who became one of my father's best friends, was my godfather. All of them had gone to high school together in New Jersey, and when my mother finally gave birth to her first child -- me -- after several miscarriages and a stillborn son, she asked her friend Paula if she would be my godmother.
I can't speak to the role of the godparent in general culture, I can only speak for mine. It's a serious responsibility. Godparents promise to see to the child's spiritual upbringing and, if necessary, their physical upbringing as well, in the event of the death of the parents. Serious oaths are sworn and taken at the child's christening and baptism. I know my mother took it very, very seriously; certainly more than just an honor or a show of appreciation to a friend. She knew she could count on my godmother to raise me as she herself would have, if anything ever happened to her. As a child I definitely considered my godparents to be my "other" mother and father. Heck, my first dog was a puppy from a litter of my godmother's dog.
At my confirmation -- the Catholic version of a Bar Mitzvah, or coming of age -- my godparents were just as proud as my biological parents. They helped throw a huge party for me, which turned into a major family reunion the likes of which we never had before or since. My grandmother was one of 17 children and my grandfather one of 19 children; I met cousins, second cousins, and third cousins plus aunts and great-aunts and uncles and great uncles that I didn't even know existed. They came from all over the country. And all I can remember is how beautiful my two sets of parents looked and how proud they were.
Thank you, Compara Ben, for promising to raise me if I needed it. It is a debt that I can never repay. Comara Paula, I hope you will always consider me your other son. I hope you are able to find some peace and joy this Christmas.