The Holy Communion

Good evening readers. I am blogging live from the midst of a holy communion celebration right in the heart of Catholic Ireland. For me, an, at best, lapsed Church of England girl, and at worst, an irreligious heathen with Buddhist sympathies, this is all very foreign.
You see, the holy communion is only a small part of a much bigger enterprise. The actual holy communion service takes, at most, an hour. But, the celebration, oh, the celebration! The household has been in preparations for the celebration since… well, since I arrived, almost. But, its been in earnest preparation since at least this time last week. We have had to clean and tidy the whole house. On Thursday, we started buying supplies for the party. On Friday, we started making the food. Friday lunchtime, the bouncy castle arrived (that’s right. A bouncy castle). This morning, we got up and went to church, and we have been home since about 1:30pm, eating and drinking and running around and jumping on the bouncy castle. Its now 6:30pm and the party is still going strong. People are coming in, going out, food is being eaten, more food is being brought out. I am wrecked, and I’m not even the one who is the centre of attention today (my eldest girl who has just gone through her holy communion), or the one in charge of the catering and hosting (my host mother).
The bouncy castle really deserves more blogging space. Its huge. Its a proper size bouncy castle. I thought my eldest charge was joking when she told me when I arrived (back in February) that she would be getting a bouncy castle for her holy communion. I didn’t think she could possibly be serious. But they’re quite the institution over here for holy communion celebrations, apparently. So much so that the practice has been mocked in some satirical articles I’ve read in the local newspaper (and you know what I think about local newspapers). There was a tragedy in Waterford last week, actually, where a little girl who had wanted a bouncy castle for her holy communion died whilst using it. Her father had been unable to hire a bouncy castle for her party, as they were all booked out (see, very popular), so he bought one and set it up himself. Of course, he didn’t set it up properly, a gust of wind took the castle off, with her and two of her friends in it, and she was killed, as she fell out of it. The other two were fine. I can’t imagine what that poor family, and, in particular, the father, would be going through. Just awful.
Anyway, no tragedy has happened like that with our bouncy castle (praise be to God…. listen to how Catholic I sound), so far, at least (knock on wood), and the kids adore it. In particular the youngest, who grabs each new visitor and pulls them over to the castle to show them. When it arrived yesterday, I was reluctant to get on it as it reminded me too much of the trampoline (I’ve grown to hate the trampoline, in case you were wondering, regular readers, but I’ll save that for another post), but I ended up being convinced as the littlest girl couldn’t get on the slide without my help (oh, yes, that’s right, there’s a slide as well. A bouncy castle, with bouncy slide attached). Then, I said I wouldn’t go down the slide. Mainly because I couldn’t manage to get up on to it. I wasn’t stretchy enough, and my wrist was killing me, and my pants were falling down and I felt so ungainly. But, then I started thinking about the fact that a few years ago I would have been able to get up there easy, and how, as a kid, I was always the one who wanted to climb over fences and up trees and scramble through woods, and I thought, oh God, I’m getting so old and creaky, and if I don’t get up on to that bouncy castle slide that will just prove how old and creaky I am, and, suddenly, I had a burst of energy and managed to scramble up the side and throw myself down with the enthusiasm and excitement of a girl half my age (I can say that now. I am old).
Anyway, the littlest just fell in love with the castle, and the only way we managed to get her to put her PJ’s on and go to bed was to tell her that it was broken and that her Dad would fix it in the morning. Which meant she didn’t go running outside, but did mean a bout of hysterical crying at the thought of her precious castle being broken.
Today, I got to see half the ceremony, and to see my eldest girl all dressed up and looking beautiful, but, unfortunately, the youngest wasn’t able to sit through the ceremony quietly (she kept clapping after each hymn and calling out, ‘Again, again!’), so I had to take her home. She was very very unhappy about that, and the only way I managed to calm her down was to show her the thermal camera effect on the camera on my computer and show her how her face could turn blue and green and red. So, now I have 198 thermal camera photos of me and her saved on to my hard drive. Cute.
The ceremony (or what I saw) was very strange. I always get very excited about the prospect of going to a religious ceremony, I think, because I have images from Hollywood, and expect to be lifted up, or inspired, or find the meaning of life whilst I’m there. But, mainly its just boring. The priest is usually very boring, and uninspired. I could hardly hear the guy yesterday, so that was boring, because even if he had the language skills of Obama’s speech-writing team, I couldn’t hear a thing he said. And, apart from that, the ceremony is just confusing for a heathen such as myself, because I don’t know when to sit or stand, I don’t know the hymns or the actions or when to say ‘Amen’ or ‘And also with you.’ Its like trying to make friends with people who are in some sort of clique or exclusive club and who don’t want you to know what they’re talking about. Not amazingly welcoming.
Its funny, when I first arrived in Belfast, there were all these displays in the clothing stores of little child mannequins dressed up in outfits that, to me, looked like wedding clothes. I didn’t know why these little girl mannequins were carrying purses and wearing veils. It wasn’t for a few hours later that I realised they were holy communion clothes, but it was such a foreign image to me, that I didn’t recognise it. I’ve been talking to my host mother about it, and I was explaining that the whole ‘holy communion’ thing was foreign to me, and I assumed that it was not only because so many people in Newcastle were descendant from Welsh or Scottish or Cornish miners, and so, therefore, more likely to be Protestant or Anglican or Church of England or something, but because I went to a public school, I didn’t really meet many Catholic kids until I was at MHS. But, then, I had the relisation that my cousins were actually brought up Catholic because their Dad was Catholic. Anyway, all of this just made me realise how much of a bigger deal holy communions and Catholicism and ‘all that stuff’ is here. That sounds stupid and pedestrian. What I’m trying to say is, my cousins were brought up an entirely different religion to me, and it didn’t even register. I wasn’t invited to holy communion parties or confirmation parties or anything like that. I assume they must have gone through that, and I vaguely remember some pictures, but that’s about it. Whereas, my eldest girl’s holy communion, well, the whole family is here. Friends of the family are here. People have driven from Dublin to be here. We’ve been planning it all week. THERE IS A BOUNCY CASTLE.

‘Thermal’ photo of me, the little one’s hand and her mouse.

Anyway, I’m being very rude. Plus, I’m missing some awesome food (cheese! Cheesecake! cheese!) and a championship rugby match between Leinster (Dublin area) and Munster (Cork area), so I’m going to head back out. Apparently, if you listen to my eldest girl, the party isn’t finishing til midnight. If its true, this is going to be the second-longest celebration I have ever attended (the first being my graduation from Actors Centre, and that was only because I went to the graduation party for 8 hours, and then went to a friend’s birthday party for another 7 hours, so it wasn’t even one party), and its a party for an 8 year old’s holy communion. These Irish Catholics, man, they know how to party.

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