Swiss First Communion Suits


Figure 1.--This Swiss boy in 1970 was dressed in a white cassock for First Communion. French boys sometimes did their First Communion in such cassocks.

We do not yet have much information on First Communin in Switzerland. We think that the trends are similar to hose in neighboring Germany. Like Germany, the country has both Catholics nd Protestants. And there are further comolicatiins because in addituiin to German speakers, there are also French and Italian speakers. The French and German cimmunities have both Protestants and Catholics. As axfesult of religious persecution, mny French Protestants pread to Switzerland. The Italian speakers are lmost all Catholics. We are not sure to what extent Forst Communipn practices vary among bthe different national groups. We see some difference differences between the German speakers in Switzerland and Germans acriss the bieder. Wecare less sure aboutv the French and Italian speakers.

Background

Switzerland is a small mountaneous country located in the middle of Europe, wedged between several large countries. As a result, it 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 different groups. And gistirically the rugged terraine tended to accentuale regional and communal differences. Language and culture are powerfuk forces. Thus German-speakers are most influenced by Germany and French-speakers by France. But there are also natiinal forces tieing the different comminities together.

Chronology

We have just begun to assess the chronology of Swiss First Communions. Are rchive is still very limited. We do not yet have information on Swiss First Communion in the 19th century or even the early-20th century. We note boys at mid-century wearing medium-colored short phnts suits with either knee socks or long stockings. Dark suits with white knee socks as we see in Germany seem less common, although some boys did wear black long stockings. he girls wear white junior wedduing dresses and white long stockings. Catholic boys through the 1950s wore their best Sunday suit for the special First Communion event. Cassock began to become popular for First Communion in the 1960s. The custom of wearing a cassock started in French speaking Romandie and quickly spreading over entire country, becoming the most common First Communion garment. Presumably it originated from the cassock worn in religious services by boys choirs such as Les Petits Chanteurs la Croix de Bois. Today the cassock is worn by both French and German speaking Catholic boys for First Communion.

Styles

We note Swiss boys wearing a range of outdits for their First Communions. The most styles for Swiss First Communion outfits included suits, sailor suits, and cassocks. Sailor suits were one of the popular styles for sailor suits. Since the 1960s, however, cassocks have become more important. Boys also wore their best suits for First Communion. In many cases a new suit was bought for the occasion. Often parents brought a brand new suit for the occasion. The suits were normal dress up suits. They were mostly rather dark colors, either grey, blue, brown, even black. There were no white suits. Cassocks are now the most common costume for First Communion in Switzerland. Note here the similarity between cassock and school smock, all boys being dressed with a uniformity rule in front of Jesus or teacher, social differences being erased. A Catholic Swiss contributor reports that First Communion is a large celebration where all is festively dressed.

Religious and National Differences

HBC was unsure as to whether the German/French/Italian speaking communities of Switzerland affected the style of First Communion costumes. HBC had thought that most Swiss French and Itlalians are catholics and most Swiss Germans are protestants. HBC also wondered if nationality affected first communion suit styles. French-speaking boys commonly wear cassocks for First Communion. I'm not sure about Itlalian-speaking Swiss boys. Also I was unsure how many German speaking caltholics there are in Switzerland and what they wear for First Communion. A Swiss reader has provided some insights on these questions.

Religious differences

Switzerland is not only a country with different national-linguistic groups, there is also a mix of religion. There is no dominate religion in Switzerland, although there are slightly more Catholics than Protestants. About 48 percent of the Swiss population is Catholic and about 44 percent is Protestant. The remaining 8 percent is divided among a large variety of different religious groups.Catholic: The four cantons that originally founded (1291) Switzerland are majority catholic.
Protestant: Geneva, now with a small majority of catholics, is still seen as being the canton of Protestantism. This results from the heritage of the Reformation when Calvin fled France to live and work in Geneva. Swiss Protestantim is the result of the theology of Calvin and T de Bze on the French-speaking side, and Zwingli (Swiss) and Luther (German) on the German speaking part.

National differences

The religious divide does not closely follow the national-linguistic divide, except for the Italians.
Italians: The Italian-speaking population is concentrated in the southern canton of Ticino which like Italy is is predominantly catholic.
French: French speaking cantons are, unlike France itself, of mixed religions, both Catholic and Protesant. There is approximately the same mix of religions among French speakers as in the whole country. This is because many French Protestants in the 17th century fled to Switzerland to escape the virulent religious procecutuions in France. The only exception are two cantons of with Catholic majorities: Fribourg and Valais (in German, Freiburg and Wallis). These two cantons are also bilingual.
German: Cantons near the German boarder have Protestant majority, and are primarily German speaking.

Preparation

Preparation for First Communion was not done during official school time, but after classes were over (frequently from 4:00-7:00 pm) or during morning on non-school days. The preparation could either take place at school itself, particularly for not to rich parishes, or in meeting rooms of parish house if it belonged to the richer ones! You have to keep in mind that status of churches (catholic or protestant) versus the cantonal state varies considerably with the various cantons, some have compulsory church taxes and remunerate the clergymen--these would include religious education in official school program and some do not. The same applies to education where even the age of entry into obligatory school differs from cantons to cantons.

Personal Experiences

1940s boy

For maybe the first time I did not have to wear smock at church during this very special ceremony. So I had a brown short pants suit that previously was used by brother for same occasion, wearing also this "white arm ribbon". But as soon as back home for the big family luncheon I returned ... to a brand new black smock, that I kept the whole day even when returning to church in the evening for the special first communion vespers. I never saw that suit again, was surely given quickly to some poor family.







HBC






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Created: December 19, 1999
Last edited: 6:40 PM 12/7/2011