First Holy Communion: The kids are all white
These days, parents are cutting out extravagant spending and keeping the First Holy Communion a simple affair, writes Arlene Harris
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.
"I will get my hair done for the event and will book us an appointment to have our nails done," says Eva. "Then we will be having about 35 people for a family meal.
"Hannah is very excited about it all and last week she and her friend were discussing the style of their dresses. It was like they were talking about their weddings."
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.
"She used it for her daughter and then passed it to another sister-in-law, who in turn, passed it to Trish so my niece Laura could use it for her communion eight years ago.
"When my eldest daughter, Julia, saw the dress on Laura, she said she wanted to wear it and that is how it got passed on to us. So it began its Irish connection four years ago for Julia's communion, then Elena wore it the following year and Rachel wore it last year."
But far from being dismayed at wearing a hand-me-down dress, the Sanz girls were delighted to carry on the tradition, particularly as it meant they could get new accessories to go with it.
"All the girls were thrilled to be wearing something their cousin wore," says Ann.
"And I allowed them to choose some accessories so they were happy with that.
"Although the dress has been worn on many occasions, it still looks lovely and while I have no more girls to pass it on to, my husband's cousin in Tipperary told us that his daughter would like to wear it, so I think it will be going for a good while yet.
"At the end of the day, a First Holy Communion is a family day celebrating the child receiving a holy sacrament, so to me, it seems crazy to be spending small fortunes on outfits, parties and the rest."
Child and family psychologist Peadar Maxwell agrees and says parents should not splash out too much on celebrations.
"Excesses are often overwhelming for children who will enjoy and remember a nice day with their family more than the sensory overload of excess," he advises. "We do our children no favours by spending beyond our means or 'adultising' childhood events with fake-tans, costume jewellery and child-unfriendly venues.
"Keep it simple and focus on being available to give your child the attention they crave on their special day. A nice lunch, doting grandparents and the chance to play with siblings and cousins is what children will remember."
And if your child wants to keep up with the elaborate preparations of their peers, Maxwell says parents should tell their children they can't afford it.
"Try not to get cross or defensive about what you can't afford. Think of your child's expectations as requests and explain that there are choices within those, for example you can have this dress but that will mean no bouncy castle or we can have this many people but that will cut out something else.
"Rather than trying to do everything you think is expected of you by scrimping or borrowing, show you child that they and their family can have a great day within your means."