Cultural: First Communion

For families of faithful Roman Catholics (that's almost everyone in our area), their children partake of their first communion during the months of May and/orJune when they are in second grade.

For the "nonCatholics" reading this, this means taking part of the bread, not the wine or juice - at least in our part of Poland at the churches we have visited. The priests drink that only - not the people in the pew. (I'm telling you that tidbit, because as someone who grew up in a Baptist church partaking of communion - we had two parts to our communion - bread and "the fruit of the vine"- we used juice and all partake of both.)

This is how the dresses used to look - picture from 1989

This is how the dresses used to look - picture from 1989

They have specific  clothing - the girls dress in special white outfits- the boys - dress up as well. When we were first here, the girls looked like they had white wedding dresses - they were quite beautiful. Then, the church decided that it was getting to be too expensive/ostentatious/out of hand and they changed to a more simple white robe - which were all the same for all the girls. However, I think this has loosened a bit from what it was at first, as I've seen some pretty white dresses again on the streets. It may depend on which parish or school the children go to, what they they wear.

The children are 9 years old when they partake of this important event in the life of a Roman Catholic.

photo credit - google images

photo credit - google images

It is much more than a simple "partaking of communion" however. This is the third of the seven sacraments that Roman Catholics are to partake in.

For those of you who aren't Roman Catholic, maybe you didn't know - this involves something called transubstantiation, where they believe that they are actually eating the flesh of Christ as the bread miraculously changes into this when the priest prays over it while retaining the appearance of bread. For the true believer, this is truly major, for then you have part of Christ in your body.  (The wine changes to the blood of Christ, at this time, also, but only the priests drink this here in our area of Poland.) 

photo credit - google images

photo credit - google images

Afterwards, there is usually a big get-together with family and friends with lots of pictures, at a restaurant or involving a catered meal - for people with a bit of money. Poorer people might just meet at home or in a yard.

They celebrate for hours - and the child receives presents  - rather large ones  - things like computers, bikes, televisions for their rooms, and a few years ago, four-wheelers were a popular gift for people with money. Money is also a very popular gift - if not THE most popular gift. I found a website with the A-Zs of preparing for a First Communion Party. Those of you who are very interested might try to read it via google translate.

Preparation for this event is pretty extensive. The children have to go to church for meetings with the priest - they have religion class at school, so all year they've been talking about it during that class. Parents also have to go to church with their child every day for a week before the event among other things. There is a checklist of things that must be done before they can participate.

One year after your first communion, there is also a anniversary event that takes place.

Companies that do catering and restaurants are booked every May/early June with these events. It is a very big business - akin to weddings, only on a smaller scale.

End of information about first communion - the rest are my comments. 

I believe, that while some of this might be specific to Poland, most of it would apply in any practicing Roman Catholic country or culture.

My experiences with it - 

Many years ago when our children were this age, some of the other kids in their classes at school were getting up to about $1000 in money for first communion. It seems that discussing "What'd you get?" is the most common question after the first communion once the kids get back to school.

If it used to be getting together and getting a Bible and a bracelet (girl) or a watch (for the boy), at least here in the Warsaw area of Poland, it isn't that way anymore. Yes it bothers me - but I'm just watching- not participating.

I have been told that this focus on the gifts and not the meaning of their first communion is a bit troublesome to at least some of the priests.  Here's an article discussing it (in English geared to American Catholics.)

One lady I know this year doesn't have that much to give her granddaughter - she only has $75 and she's worried that it won't be enough. In fact since she is the grandma, she told me she is actually expected to give a minimum of $125, but she doesn't have it. She's really stressed over (it's coming up for her in a couple of days.)

Often children these days receive in the thousands of zlotys. (I've got to believe that there are many who don't as well--but they tend to keep quiet.)

For the children - the event is surely significant - if not for the communion itself, at least for the party and gifts afterwards.

And no, for those of you who are curious, we don't believe it or practice this.  Our children didn't participate in religion class when they attended the Polish public school.

Our beliefs are that you are qualified to take communion after you have made a profession of faith in Christ alone and been baptized - then you can partake. There is no special party or day when you first take communion - in fact, probably most of the other people in the building don't realize it is your first time. We also don't believe that we are eating the flesh of Christ - but that it is symbolic and nothing changes substance when the pastor prays over the elements.

And that's all for today from our part of Poland! Have a wonderful day!