Recently we celebrated my daughter's First Communion in Idaho. It reminded me of my First Communion Celebration in my parish church in Krakow Poland over thirty years ago. Also, I was able to locate some of my mother's family photographs that are over 70 years old.
First Communion in Polish Family in Silesia - about 1930
I have a couple of photographs of my mother's older sisters from their First Communion celebration in Silesia, Poland in early thirties on XX century. First Communion was always an important event for Polish Roman Catholics. It was also a suitable occasion for a family picture. On the photographs showed above, the communion girl was my Aunt Elizabeth, who was nearly 10 years older than my mother (in 1930). My mother was the baby sitting on her mother's lap (my grandmother). My mother was the youngest of all seven children. The communion girl stood in the middle between her parents, she is surrounded by her sisters and the only brother. She wore a short white dress, and she carried a candle in one hand and a prayer book in the other. Everybody looked very neat and tidy. Although it is obvious that the family of my mother was not a rich, the parents with their limited resources wanted to make sure that the children have the basic necessities. This was during the time of great depression. My grandfather lost his job as a miner, and he was forced to early retirement just when the family was just working on expanding the house so that it would be more comfortable for a large family. Eventually they were able to enlarge the house, and the older sisters found jobs just before the WW II started, bringing even more problems.
After WW II, the communistic system was implemented. The communists wanted to replace religious traditions with laical by promoting civil marriages and also civil baptism ceremonies. Since Poles were too attached to their Church and their religion tradition, it was not very successful.
First Communion in Poland- about 1970
I remember my first communion in May 1970 (see my white-black photo above). I was in a second grade like my daughter, now. Almost my entire school class was present, since almost all Poles were the members of Roman Catholic Church. Our outfits were more elaborate as compared to these of my aunts 30-40 years earlier. The girls wore long white dresses, some had veils, fixed hair, white shoes and many extra accessories not available before the war. Girls carried lilies in their hands, while boys carried candles. Even the boys' outfits were quite expensive, since they were dressed in white suits.
Since my First Communion, communion dresses in some regions of Poland became very expensive and fancy, the communion girls looked like small brides. Finally, many parishes restricted and simplified First communion outfits, so that the children focus would be on the religion aspect of Eucharist rather than on the fashion competition. Presently in many Polish parishes girls and boys have to be dress in unified outfits - simple white robes, which remind the priest robe.
My daughter had her First Communion ceremony in the Roman Catholic Church at Idaho Falls in April 2008 (see her photo to the left). She received so many gifts that she felt overwhelmed. I remember, my main communion gift was a first wristwatch and I was very happy about it! Now kids have everything, maybe except our attention that they probably need the most in the busy world of today.
I believe that the First Communion celebration should be delayed at least 1-2 years in order that the children will understand the religious aspect of the Eucharist. Before my First Communion, we had to pass a test whether we knew enough about the basic church laws and commandments. I remember that I had to learn these rules by heart without really understanding their meaning. I realized that my daughter's religious understanding was also very limited when she asked a month ago, "Mom, I don't need to attend religion class anymore after the First Communion, right?"
First Communion in Idaho - 2008