Around the world, a lot of little boys and girls are getting very excited and thoughtful about a big day they have on the horizon – their First Holy Communion. It is huge milestone, developmentally and spiritually. They are old enough to start really thinking deeply and asking meaningful questions about God and faith and what it all means. At the same time, of course they are kids and they are also worrying about how they will do and what they will wear on the big day. And yes, the subject of gifts is no doubt crisscrossing their minds as well. In Ireland, this is a milestone occasion that is both steeped in tradition and constantly evolving.
While some families do still bring their children around visiting to relatives and loved ones to be admired and given cards (usually with cash tucked in them), the communion party has overshadowed the visiting tradition. There are as many variations on this as there are families with a child making his or her First Holy Communion. It could be anything from a meal out with the family and godparents to a huge event complete with a bouncy house and caterers. But the heart of it is, of course, the sacrament and rite at the church. The cards, the gifts and even the cake and decorations feature religious themes such as crosses and communion wafers.
Amid the endless debate about what children – especially girls – should wear, the frantic shopping and planning, and worry about details that won’t be remembered, is the deeper, eternal question of faith and the significance of a child reaching the age where he or she can participate personally and directly in that faith as an individual rather than simply accompanying parents to mass. All of the other fuss is really about how to mark this significant step in spirituality.
Whether the family decides to mark the day with a huge party or a quiet gathering together of just their nearest and dearest, the parents, godparents and grandparents often really want to find a gift that is special for the occasion. While it is traditional in Ireland for the extended family and friends to give the child money, the more immediate family usually strive to find something more personal and meaningful, something with religious significance such as a Celtic cross pendant, rosary beads or a Bible.
However this very significant day is marked and celebrated, it is sure to be a treasured memory for all of the children making their First Holy Communion as they grow up. And many of the parents, godparents and other adults involved are probably reflecting on their own First Holy Communion days – remembering vague confessions of hitting siblings, the excitement of dressing up and the nerves on the day, and especially the loved ones gathered around them to celebrate. Whether the sacrament is performed in a large urban church or a small village parish, the feelings involved are huge.