First Communion Suits: Country Trends

Some information is available on First Communion practices and outfits in different countries. There is a great deal of similarity among countries, but there are many interesting differences as well. Sailor suits were worn in several countries. Cassocks were worn by some boys in France and Spain. Boys in most countries wore suits which varie greatly in style over time. Boys wore kneepants, short pants, knickers, and long pants suits--styles and types varied substantially from country to country. There have been significant changes over time in these countries. Quite a bit of information is available from many countries, but information is still lacking on several countries--especially Italy.

Africa


Madagascar

We do not have much information on Africa in HBC. This is primarily because there seem to be relatively few computer users in Africa because of the generally low income levels. Thus there are few readers to provide us information and images. We do note a First Communion group in a Madagascar village. We do not yet know much about First Communion in Madagascar. The country was a Frebch colony and thus the Catholic Church is important. For some reason the group is mostly girls. They wear the traditional white dresses. The lone boy wears a white shirt with dark trousers.

Zaire

We note Belgian boys at a Stanlyville cermony during their First Communion during 1958-59. he boys mostly seem Belgian, but we notice one Congolese boy.

Argentina First Communion
Figure 1.--Argentina is the most European of the Latin American countries. We see many Argentine boys dressed rather like European boys for their First Communions.

America, Latin


Argentina

Fist Comminion was a very important day in the life of an Argentine child, although this varied from school to school. The private Catholic schools gave special attention to First Communion. Boys from aflluent families would have special suits for the occasion. Eton suyits or white syuits were oparticularly popular. Often the class would dress alike for the occasion. By the 1980s such fancy suits had become less common. Other Argentine boys wore many different clothes for First Communion. It depended a lot on social status. The poorer kids mainly wore jeans, various shoes, a shirt or a t-shirt and their white front buttoning school v neck smock. Other boys from more affluent families mainly wore short pants suits.

Brazil

Like most other South American countries, Brazil is a largely Catholic country. Until the 20th century there were virtually no other organized religions in Brazil. This has changed and Protestants today may amount to 20 percent of the population. And the Protestants tend to be much more fervent in their exercise of religion. Brazil is still the world's largest Catholic country. It is difficult, however, to assess just what this means. The population is culturally Catholic, but actual church attendance is relatively low. Catholic iconography is everywhere, such as Jesus mud flaps in the omipresent trucks which ply Brazilian highways. We have no historic information about First Communion in Brazil. The country began building a public school system. This is related to First Communion because First Communion classes were provided in the public schools. This may have substantially increased the number of children doing First Communion. As in other Catholic countries, a child's First Communion was an important event. Families that could aford to do so commonly bought the child a new suit or special costume. This was a substantialexpenditure for many families. The girls junior wedding dresses in particular were very expensive.

Chile

A Chilean reader tells us that, "I had one of those fancy First Communion ribbons when I made my first communion in Chile many year ago. The ribbon was attached to the Easter Lilly for the girls and around the arm for the boys. I would like to keep the tradition, but can't find where to buy one today.

Mexico

Mexico like many Catholic countries places considerable emphasis on First Communion. The role of the Church in Mexico is different than in many other Spanish-speaking countries. The Church as in most of Latin America supported the conservative land-holding elite, but these consevative elements were defeated in the Revolution. As a result, there is a strict division between church and state in Mexico. Unlike some countries, there is no Catlolic access to state schools. Forst Comminion is organized through the Church alone. There are also social class destinctions. Middle class boys are much more likely to have an elaborate First Communion celebration and a Firsr Communion suit.

Uruguay

Uruguay as is most of the rest of South America is a predominately Catholic country. Until recemtly there were few Protestants in the country. First Communion was an important event in a child's life. We have been unable to find any information describing First Communion in Uruguay. Many adults, especially men, are not active in the Church. Mother commonly insist that children are baptised and do First Communion. First Communion outfits seem very similar to those worn in Argentina. Girls wore junior wedding dresses and boys different suits. Working class children dressed more plainly. We do not yet have enough Uruguayan images in our archive to have a good idea of the outfits worn. With the growth of Socialism and secular culture, this is less common than it once was. We suspect tht Socialist and secular parents were less likelt to have their children do First Communion, but as it was a cultural as well as a religious occasion this was not always the same.

America, North



St. Joseph's Catholic Church Rock Island, Illinois, 1930s
Figure 2.--First Communion class at St. Joseph's Catholic Church Rock Island, Illinois, during the 1930s. Note that most of the boys are wearing dark rather than white suits. Most are knicker suits.

America

First Communion was a particularly important event in the lives of many immigrant American families, especially Irish and Italian communities. New suits were often purchased for the occasion. Sometimes but not always the suits were white symbolizing the purity of the children. It was much more common to buy white dresses for the girls than white suits for the boys. Irish and Italian mothers were more likely to insist on white suits. The suits through the 1940s were often short pants suits, but since the 1940s they are more likely to be white. The purchase of a new suit, especially a white suit, just for first communion has gradually passed out of fashion, cost being the primary factor especially as a white suit has few other uses. Now boys in many places simply wear white shirts. Girl still often are outfitted in dresses purchased just for the occassion.

Canada

Canada has a large French-speaking population in Quebec. As in France, First Communion was a major event. One boy in the early 1950s wore a beret, dark suit, and long black stockings for First Communion.

Asia

First Communuin is not very extensively celebrated in Asia, largely because of the relatively small Christian populations in most Asian countries. Here the strengthn of exosting religious communities as well mas the influence of the Comminosts ahve bee factors.

India

We do not know much about First Communion in India. Here is an images from northern West Bengal. The photograph was taken in Kearchand, a village with about 5,000 inhabitants 150 kilometers from Calcutta. In the region all Christians belong to Santhali Tribe. The image here shows a children's First Communion in the 1990s.

Korea


Vietnam


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.

Middle East and North africa


Lebanon

Lebanon is a majority Muslim country with a substantial Christian minority. The principal Christian denomination in Levanon is the Marionite Church. It is an eastern church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The denomination traces its roots to St. Maron (early 5th century). The first Maronite patriarch was St. John Maron (late 7th century). Lebanon's Maronites are Arabic-speaking Christians. Their ethnic heritage is esentially the same as Muslim Lebanese (Phoenician, Assyrian, and a variety of other Levantine/West Semitic peoples). Lebanese Christians may have some Greek and European elements just as Muslim ASrabs may have some Arab ancestry, but these are relatively small additions to the historical ethnicity of the Levant. Marionite Christians have differed as to their position in the arab world or even their Arab identity. We have few details about Maronite First Communion services at this time.

Oceania


(The) Philippines

The first Europeans to reach the Philippines was the expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan (1521). A series of Spanish expeditions followed. The ecploers named the Islands the Filipinas, in honor of Philip II, Spain's agressively Catholic monarch. The Spanish proceeded to colonize and Christiasnize most of the various islands. The Muslims inhabitants in the south, especiall Mindanao resisted Christianity. The Spanish faced insurgent efforts throughout the colonial period, but Christianity was widely accepted. We do not yet know a great deal about First Communion in the Philippines. We note many children wearing European styles First Communion outfits, but the Philippines tropical climate is a factor.

Unknown Countries

We have found some images of boys doing their First Communions that we cannot identify the country involved. Sometimes we can guess the country based on a range of clues such as appearance and clothing styles. In some cases the photographs are dated, but often they are not.In other instances this is much more difficult. We will load some of these images here. Perhaps HBC readers can help ifentigy the countries involved.







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Created: December 20, 1998
Last edited: 10:17 PM 10/17/2013