** European first communion Catholic religion

First Communion Celebrations: Europe

Europe is historically the most Christian continent. It is also a patchwork of Christian denominations. The Great Schism split the Church on an East/West axis (11th century). Than the Protestan Reformation basically split the West on an North-Sout basis, although Poland and Ireland were Catholic holdouts in the north. Since the 19th century when religious liberty became more accepted, there has been a gradual dilution of the strict separation of Christian denominations. The basic north/south division, however, has persisted. And this has affected the prevalence of First Communion celebrations because it is primarily a Catholic and Orthodox ritual. There were substnatial differences from country to country. We do not know agreat deal abiout the 18th century in most countries, but we have a great deal of information on the 20th century. First Communuiin celebratuions and outfits in the 20th has been affected by both fashion developmebnts as well as the great historical experiebces, in particular both the NAZIs and Communists. Rgeyb have contrubuted to, but are not totalluy responsible for t gradual de-Christianization of Europe following Worls WSar II. Clebrating First Communuinn is not now not as wide spread as it once was, but still important in most countries with important Catholic populations.


Austria as a largely Catholic country has meant that most boys did a First Communion. We are not entirely sure when this became an important Catholic custom. As more secular believes spread, some families may not have had their children do a First Communion, but we are unsure just how common this was. Children doing First Communion in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were given medals. Some communities had uniformed bands which played when children each years did their First Communion. One vistor reported a beautiful celebration in the SalzburgerLand area. Many Austrian parishes reserve First Communion celebrations for Ascension. The First Communion does continue to be a major event in the lives of Austrian children. It is after First Communion that an Austrian boy can begin to train to be an altar boy. We note one internet posting in 2007, "Zach received his First Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday with four other kids. It was a joyous occasion. He had been working very hard to prepare himself for receiving Jesus. He told me when he received that felt Jesus. God is so good!! Zach has already asked Father Dave when the next altar server training is. He is ready to join his big brother!"

Figure 1.--Here we see a Belgian boy's First Communion portarit, probably in the 1930s.


Belgium like France is a catholic country. Belgium is also a bilingual country being divided into both French (Waloons) and Dutch (Flemish) speakers. While linguistically divided, both the Waloons and Flemish are Catholics. First Communion has thus been an important event in a Belgian boys life. We believe there may have been social divisions here. We also believe that along with the decline in the importance of religion in Belgium as in much of Western Europe that the event is less important than it used to be. We have little information at this time, but we do know that some boys in the early 20ty century wore sailor suits.


We do not yet have a Czech first communion page, but we do have a Czechoslovakian religion page.


I do not yet have any information on First Communion suits in England during the 19th Century and early 20th Century. While a largely Protestant country, there is a substantial Catholic minority. Since Tudor ays the Catholics have been an opressed minority, only winning their civil rights in the 19th century. Cathloics have been largely working class Britons. Many Irish immigrated to Britain beginning with the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Thus money for an expensive First Communion suit was not always available. The Government eventually began to support Catholic schools and continues to do so today. Many schools had the boys use part of their school uniform for First Communion. An English contributor to HBC recalls in the 1960s getting a new short pants suit for First Communion. Some of his school mates got long pants suits. He does not recall boys wearing white suits, but all the girls had long dresses.

Figure 3.--This French advertisement (Thiery) shows First Communion suits available for boys in 1956.


French boys like American boys used to get dressed up in new suits or fancy outfits for their First Communion. The suits have changed over time. Some were simplly new suits. I have little historical information. American boys often wore white suits. I don't know of this was also the case in France. Other were very formal tuxedos or Eton suits. Available information on 1960s suits suggest mostly black suits. Some schools instead of having parents buy new oufits would have the boys dress up in identical cassocks for the ceremony. Sailor suits are also worn.


Germany is primarily a Protestant country, but there is a very large Catholic minority. Catholic boys often have special suits for first communion. At this time we know realtively little about the styles. Some French boys wore sailor suits, I'm not sure if German boys did also. Some German boys wore white shirt pants suits, often with kneesocks. Some boys wore long stockings or tights. The girls as in other countries wore junior wedding dresses. This is normally a major event in a Catholic boy's life and a major family celebration. Protestant boys may get new suits for communion or confirmation. We have only limited information at this time as to chronological trends on German First Communion suits. The shoulder devices look somewhat different than the ribbons and bows that were common in some other countries. Boys sometimes wore long stockings with short pants suits as the weather in Germany is sometimes quite chilly. Long pants suits became more common in the 1970s.


Ireland is perhaps the most Catholic country in Europe. The Irish Churchbwas at the center of preserving Irish nationality and asa result contious to have an enormous influence in modern Ireland. Most persons in the Irish Republic are Catholic and many remember their First Communion as one of their earliest experiences.


First Communion was a major event in the life of Italian children. Almost all Italians are Catholics. Most Itlaian boys thus have First Communions. Unfortunately, HBC has little information on First Communion in Italy. We also have have virtually no Italian images, let alone specific Italian first communion suits. Wedo note some rather stylish First Communion suits. Hopefully Italian visitors to this site will provide some insights. Italy is a country that HBC has had trouble obtaining information about.


We suspect that First Communion traditiins in KLithuiania and eastern Lativo aare similar to Poland. Theu may have divered somewhat after Worls War II as the Catholic Church was a major impediment to Communism in Poland, but less so in the smaller Baltic republics to which large numbers of Russians were settled.

(The) Netherlands

The Netherlands is primarily a Protestant country and majors wars were fought in the 16th and 17th centuries to gain and maintain Dutch independence and to permit protestantism to flourish. The Dutch were, however, noted for their religious tolerance. There are, as a result, Dutch Catholics and some Dutch protestant boys who celebrate their First communions as do Catholic boys in neighboring countries. A Dutch reader tells us, "In the Netherlands First Communion never was a big deal for protestant boys. The Catholics did celebrate it as a major occassion. Unlike Catholics in many other countries, Dutch Catholics take their First Communion when they are teenagers.

Figure 4.--This Firsd Communicant boy poses with his mother for a snapshot in 1938, just before World War II. He looks to be aboutb8-years old. The location is not indicated, but we would guess either Poland or the adjoining Baltics (Lithuania or eastern Latvia). Here the cropped hair is a good indivator. He is dressed all in white, including white long stockings.


First Communion is very important in Poland. The country is perhaps the most Catholic country in Europe. As such the ceremony is watershed event in the life of Catholic children. We don't yet have much historical information on First Communion in Poland. The chidren seem to celebrate Firt Communion at about 7-9 years of age. We suspect that at one time that instruction was given in the schools, but this may have varied as Poland until 1918 was split among Austria, Prussia/Germany and Russia. Then during World War II Poland was controlled by the NAZIs and Soviet. After World War II, the Communist Government launched upon an athiest campaign and prevented Church activities in the schools. We are not sure what has occurred in Polish schools since the fall of Communism. The Church's view is that First Communion aims primarily to prepare a child for religious experience, and everything associated with the event should enhance this experience rather than detract from it. Through these difficult times, First Communion has contunued to be important in Poland. Many believe that all the external aspects of the event have come to overshadow the religious essence of the occasion. First Communion has become an expensive undertaking in Poland today. Parents buy expensive lace dresses for girls and velvet suits for boys. Other expenses include a lavish reception and party as well as contributions to churches and priests for officiating and flowers. Godparents are expected to come up with expensive gifts for the children. Often this attract's the children's focus to the detriment of the religious experiebnce. Entrepreneurs have persued financial opportunities. Many families purchase engraved invitations, specual hotograph albums, commemorative Bible editions. Stores hold First Communion fashion shows. Restaurants cater First Communion parties. First Communion has become an opportunity for people to show case their rising social status and affluence. Gifts in particular have become ncreasingly expensive. Lavish parties are also becoming increasingly common. One Polish ckeric writes, 'Of course, this special moment in a child's life requires some celebration, but what is happening is a grave distortion. The entire cultural aspect of this event for the family tends in a dangerous direction and has little to do with the religious ceremony itself."


The Scotts took the Reformation muc further than the English. Most Scotts forsake the old Church for Presbetarianism. Some Scotts remained Catholic in remote areas. Irish immigrants brought their Catholic religion with them. Many settled in Glasgow. We do not yet have a Scottish first communion page, but we do have a Scotts religion page. We notice a Scottish boy doing his First Communion, we think in the 1960s. Scottish boys often wear their school uniforms for First Communion. We are less sure about the girls.


Slovakia for several centuries was ruled by Austria. Austria played a major role in preventing the spread of the Reformastion in Bohemia and Slovakia. As a result, it remained a largely Catholic province. Slovakia split from Czexhoslovakia in 1992. Slovakia continues to be culturally Catholic, but as in the rest of Europe, religion has declined in importance in the country. We do not yet have a Slovak first communion page, but we do have a Slovakian religion page.


As a Catholic country, First Communion has been a major event. This is less so now, but ardently Catholic families still do attach great importance to the event. For the children it has become a bonanza, even exceeding Christmas, although only once. A Spanish contributor informs HBC that sailor suits are popular for boys' First Communion suits, even in the 1990s. HBC has relatively few details and images to confirm this.


Switzerland is an interesting mix of language (French, German, and Italian) and religious (Catholic and different protestant) groups. First communion thus can be quite varied among these groups.


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Created: 10:44 PM 10/17/2013
Last edited: 10:44 PM 10/17/2013