Long white dresses, delicate veils and extravagantly coiffed hair – yes it's that time of year again. But I'm not talking about the wedding season – I refer to the thousands of girls who will be preparing in earnest for their First Holy Communion.
Despite the ongoing economic crisis and perhaps because of the dwindling popularity of the Church, what was intended to be a religious ceremony for our young children has turned into a hugely expensive affair which, in some cases, is more about the materialistic trappings than the blessed sacrament.
But while we are unlikely to return to the days of a glass of red lemonade in the community hall after a packed congregation listening with awe to a solemn communion sermon, it does seem that some people are moving away from the expensive celebrations of the Celtic Tiger, and while many are still spending on dresses, they are paring down the layers in favour of simple, chic styles.
Last year, the average Irish family spent €744 on First Holy Communions – a notable decline from 2011's figure of €967.
Ann Moran and her husband Rossa from Dublin have one daughter, Ciara (8), who will be making her communion in June. They have chosen a style from Petit, a children's boutique in Dublin where communion dresses cost between €390 and €450.
"Ciara is looking forward to her big day," says Ann. "We chose a traditional ballet-length dress with a chiffon skirt and capped sleeves. She is going to wear a veil and white pumps.
"After the church we will be heading back to our house for a meal with about 30 of our friends and family. There aren't too many occasions in life where we can celebrate like this, so it is important to us that Ciara has a nice day and is happy with what she is wearing."
Eva Murphy, from Dun Laoghaire, also wanted her daughter Hannah to be happy with her communion dress but was horrified when she chose a style which was four times more than she was prepared to spend.
"My husband (Lorcan) and I are not very religious but the children have been brought up as Catholic," says the mother of three (Ben (14), Robert (11) and Hannah (7).
"So Hannah will be making her communion in May and we recently went to a shop to try on a few different styles.
"The assistant allowed Hannah to pick out eight dresses and the first one was perfect – both Lorcan and I loved it and although she tried on the rest, we all agreed on the first choice.
"But I asked about the cost as it didn't have a price tag on it and was shocked when she said €800 – Lorcan paled as he thought it would be around €100. Thank God Hannah could see that it was too pricey and we managed to leave the shop without a meltdown.
"That night I did a search online and found a dress maker in Dalkey called Yvonne Harrington. We made an appointment and Hannah found the dress of her dreams. It is ballet length in white silk with an embroidered tulle overlay and cap sleeves. It cost €200 and felt like a steal compared to the price of the dress in the shop."
Eva and Hannah will get ready for the day by heading to the hairdressers and getting their nails done at a salon. After the church, they will treat family members to lunch.
Hannah and Ciara's preparations are fairly modest in comparison to many celebrations over the past few years but some people are further scaling down and turning away from 'mini wedding' extravaganzas.
Ann and Pablo Sanz have five children and the three eldest are girls. Last year, their third child Rachel made her communion in the same dress her sisters wore – a dress which originated in England and has been passed down for the past 16 years.
"Our communion dress was bought by the sister-in-law of my sister Trish who lives in England," explains Ann who lives in Clare.