Leona O'Neill: Cost of First Communion spiralling but it doesn't have to be this way

Latest figures from Ulster Bank reveal that the cost of First Holy Communions has reached a six-year high for families in Northern Ireland – but parents have a choice in this, writes Leona O'Neill

Families in the north spent an average of £568 on their child’s First Holy Communion this year

I HAVE detailed the horrors of my First Holy Communion day many times on these pages over the years, but I’ll give you a brief snippet, in case you’re a newcomer and are unfamiliar with my tale of woe.

I had been off sick the week before the First Holy Communion celebrations when the church decided, in its infinite wisdom, to bring the Mass forward an hour to accommodate some other religious celebration that day.

I hadn’t been informed so me, in all my finery, and the family rocked up in my dad’s freshly washed red Cortina as everyone was coming out of the chapel having just made their Holy Communion.

Because I had missed the proverbial Communion boat I assumed – as you do when you’re eight – that I was going to Hell and cried inconsolably, dramatically and at times hysterically for an hour in my father’s freshly washed car in the church car park as my mother, deep and genuine worry etched on her face, told me it was going to be OK.

Then arrangements were made for me to hit up the local Cathedral, join another school, receive my First Holy Communion there, have my eternal soul saved and go back home for ham sandwiches and tea. I was scarred for life by the whole experience.

Things were different in those days. There were no £1,000 dresses, no limos to the church, no renting of hotel function rooms and dinner for 100 people, no big drinking sessions or hiring a team of Shetland Ponies gussied up like unicorns to entertain your party.

It was all about, funnily enough, God. About being welcomed to God's table, into God's family. It was about going to Mass for an hour in an itchy and uncomfortable dress and then heading back to your ma’s for a cup of tea. It was about getting a set of Rosary beads from your Granny and making maybe £26 in First Communion money and thinking you were a bazillionaire.

But this is 2018 and times have changed.

Ulster Bank released its annual survey last week and it revealed that the cost of First Holy Communions has reached a six-year high for families in Northern Ireland.

Amazingly they report that families in the north spent an average of £568 on their child’s First Holy Communion this year – an increase of £30 on 2017.

The survey also found that children making their First Holy Communion received an average of £328 from family and friends, £22 less than First Communicants were gifted in 2017. While the average amount was down six per cent, a significant proportion of children earned more than £400 and 10 per cent of parents reported that their children had received in excess of £500.

I am clearly in the wrong line of business if eight-year-olds making their First Communions are on a higher daily rate than me.

Just over a third of the total amount spent by families went towards marking the occasion with an average of £205 going on parties, celebrations and food and drink. Children’s outfits accounted for 30 per cent of total amount spent while the rest was divided among clothes for other family members (£184), children’s entertainment (£103) and hair and make-up (£54).

In keeping with previous years’ trends, families with girls making their First Holy Communion incurred much higher expenditure, spending £634, which was 28 per cent more than families with boys celebrating the sacrament.

To cover the cost of their child’s special day, 5 per cent of parents surveyed claimed to have taken out a loan while 15 per cent received financial support from family or friends. The remainder of survey participants were able to use their own savings to make payments. And the kids spent their money on toys, clothes and computer games mostly.

We have our daughter’s First Holy Communion coming up this school year. We will be going old school, as always. I might even find myself a red Ford Cortina circa 1983 instead of a limo to roll up to the church in.

We’ll be back at Granny’s for those ham sandwiches and the traditional handing over of the rosary beads.

And I’ll make sure I get my girl to the church on time.

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