Holy smoke! First Communion costs how much?


OVER THE NEXT six weeks, Irish parents will collectively spend more than €33 million on their children’s First Communion while a further €20m will be given to the newly-pious in the form of cash gifts from friends and family in the moments after they walk down the aisles of Catholic churches all over the country. When spending on Confirmation is added to the mix, the total cost of celebrating religious ceremonies for Irish children will top €100m.

It is, by any measure, a remarkable amount of money to splash out on white parasols, frilly dresses, new shoes, flamboyant suits and all the other accessories deemed to be essential for little boys and girls.

And it is not like all this paraphernalia will have a long and happy life after Communion. Within weeks of the big day out, most of the finery will have found its way into cupboards all over the country where it will slowly be devoured by moths.

You would imagine that in these times of austerity things would have changed, but that does not seem to have been the case and children making their First Communion appear to have escaped the worst ravages of the recession.

In fact, the lucky little ones will get more cash than ever on their big day this year, according to an annual survey from the EBS building society which shines a light into Irish adults’ attitudes towards spending on the holy days.

Last year, the average amount received by children making their Communion was €36 compared with €30 in 2010. This year, it’s expected to be €37, a small rise admittedly but any increase in these challenging times is impressive. In comparison, Confirmation gifts are likely to fall from €35 to €30 this year, according to the EBS.

All told, Communion children will get gifts averaging €337 this year, up 4 per cent on 2011’s figure, while those making their Confirmation will get an average of €389, a year-on-year reduction of 20 per cent. The EBS says the estimated cost of a Communion, once the clothes, parties and presents are paid for, will be €554 per child, up €75 on the cost last year.

The survey also tried to establish what happened to last year’s Communion money. It found that an impressive 55 per cent of children claimed to still have at least three-quarters of the cash they had been given.

“It is interesting to note that despite the ongoing financial pressures faced by people in Ireland there remains an increase in the amount of money that children will receive for their Communion,” says EBS spokesman Aidan Power. “This highlights the fact that regardless of the economic environment, many people are determined to stick with the long-standing traditions that have been in place in Irish society.”

Certainly, the readers Pricewatch spoke to are preparing to spend money on Communions and most are prepared to cut other things out rather than scrimp on that occasion. Ranate Murphy, from Cork, has a son making his First Communion next month. The event is unlikely to cost the Earth because he is a boy and the school he goes to has a very level-headed policy when it comes to the males of the species.

Boys get to wear their uniforms while blazers are handed down from year to year at no cost to the parents. “That is a very big saving and it is perfect because boys would never wear the suity clothes again,” she says.

Would that girls were so lucky. Earlier this year, the Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM ran an item on Communion after an outraged mother contacted the station to complain about the cost of dresses and the hype surrounding the day. The results of a phone poll made for interesting reading.

D’Arcy asked whether there should be a directive from the Department of Education that uniforms should be worn for Communion and Confirmation rather than dresses and suits. Nearly 1,700 listeners voted, with three-quarters, or 1,262, in favour of a ban on dresses, while 25 per cent said the frills should stay.

Murphy describes the whole process as “a bit like a wedding” and while she is relaxed about it, she says there are people she knows who are really pushing the boat out and perhaps going overboard.

“There are people who will spend well over a thousand euro when the photographers and the dress and the catering and the party are all taken care of. I suppose it is only one day and the build-up has been lovely, but the amount you spend is not going to make the day any more spiritual – in fact it might well make it less so.”

While the parents are wondering how they are going to pay for it, the kids are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of all the loot coming their way, she says. Her son has had his expectations tempered, however. “We have told him that he will not get a lot of money on the day. Our extended family is quite small and we will not be going door to door.”

Nollaig Healy, from Clonmel, also has a boy making his First Communion. He has already got himself a €300 suit (from Arnotts) and another €500 is likely to be spent on catering the event. But what her son is really looking forward to is the cash. His older brother made €1,200 on his Communion day three years ago. “We allowed him to spend €200 on a Nintendo and the rest went into a bank account where it has stayed,” she says. “It is a lot of money, but there is nothing I can do about that.”

Marion Gale’s Donnybrook boutique has been fitting out little girls for their First Communion for more than 20 years and she says that business is as good as it ever was. Dresses in her shop start at €190, although prices can rise to as much as three times that if you are so inclined. Gloves cost €10, tights will be much the same price. Veils start at €25, although one with added sparkles costs €50, while handbags are €70. And then there are the shoes – handmade and Italian – costing between €100 and €150.

She says that parents could easily get everything in store for no more than €400. “Sometimes it can be a simple matter of choosing between polyester and silk and I have to say the polyester dresses are just as nice,” she says.

The store does have a high-end reputation but Gale is very down-to-earth about the whole thing. “What I have noticed is that people are tending to have their celebrations at home rather than going to places like the Four Seasons and we also have people who are passing down dresses from one child to the next, but then coming in to get all the accessories here. But the bottom line is we are selling as many dresses now as we ever have.”

Alli MacDonnell, from Terenure, is preparing for her second go on the Communion merry-go-round this year. Two years ago, her oldest son Alex made his Communion and this time out it is her daughter Sara’s turn to bask in the spiritual rays.

Unsurprisingly, her girl’s big day out is going to cost a lot more than the brother’s and she reckons once the dress, the in-house catering and the gifts are taken into account, she won’t have much change out of €1,000.

“They are like mini-weddings, really. I do know that some of the spending is a little bit mad and I know that a lot of people do put themselves under a lot of pressure to make sure things are just right, even now when times are tough economically. I have heard of people going to moneylenders to get the cash together.”

While she is spending a lot, MacDonnell is approaching the event with a level head. She plans to do all the catering herself and will put on a party in the garden. “To be honest, what Sara is looking forward to most are the sausages and burgers and the bouncy castle,” she says.

She is trying to book the bouncy castle this week, although it is not as easy as you might think. “They all seem to have been booked up. I am actually considering buying one. They cost around €100 to rent and between €200 and €300 to buy, but if I bought we’d get a lot of use from it.”

While she is already getting a little stressed by the thoughts of the Communion, despite the fact that it is a month away, and is well aware she is spending a lot, she believes that there are more important things at play here than money.

“Ultimately, when the day is passed both me and her will be able to look at the pictures and think, ‘Well, didn’t she have a lovely day and one that she will always remember’.

And it is very hard to put a price on that.”

Collect call: How much did you get?

Last week, we asked Twitter users how much money they got for their Communion and when. Here is a selection of the responses:

About £80 in 1987. It went straight to Raleigh. @jillajordan

1984, €75 and my father took it all to give to MFI for a new bedroom. And we weren’t even poor. And I am definitely over it now. @Momvcareer

£2/1986. Lots of rosary beads & bibles as gifts though. My family is hilarious! @gobh24

£26, 1986. New roller skates almost compensated for being forced into hand-me-down meringue. @SiobhanMODowd

1978, I made £38 which my mam “minded” for me. My daughter, 2011, made €830. Changed times. @racheljev

A lousy £65 in 1980 which I promptly blew on a Hornby train set. @damiancou

£100 – 1982 – spent on Star Wars toys @paddycomyn

Enough for half a bike in 1994, £100 or so. @AnseoAMuinteoir

£27/1977 – and I bought a nightie and a dressing gown in Dunnes with some of it . @CarolineNewell1