Sacred Spaces vs. Party Animals

It seems so long ago that my sons were having one’s First Holy Communion and the other’s Confirmation within months of one another.

Friends – and even perfect strangers – were all warning me that ‘I would go crazy’ with preparations. There were dire mentions of “double troubles” ahead, that I would be spending “a fortune”, that I ought to have postponed (I kid you not!) one of the Sacraments… and other such daft advice.

Someone I know had her son’s Holy Pictures brought over from Spain; she proudly said that they had cost the equivalent of Lm1 apiece. Another acquaintance had an elaborate beadwork bouquet made up for her daughter; still another bought a scintillating bridal tiara because the decorated bands available for girls were “paltry” and not dazzling enough to go with a raw silk, sleeveless dress (the poor child ended up having the veil pinned to the dress, restricting her movements, because the priest would not have anyone with bare arms in the congregation).

I ordered some lovely, similar holy cards and souvenirs for both children, had them printed through the same shop.

When it came to the clothes, we went to the shop of the lovely man we called Claudine’s father, in Merchants” Street. In a trice, he had them measured. We bought the shirts and the socks, and were told to collect the suits within the fortnight.

For my daughter, it was even easier. We went to Eurosposa, and together we selected the plainest dress – no frills or flounces, sequins or spangles, ruches or lace, buttons or bows. Incidentally, it was also the prettiest one available. Sad to say, it garnered me a lot of dirty looks – because it was later pointed out as “the ideal dress for a girl”, to the chagrin of all those who had actually got their seamstress to add stuff to the already ornate dresses.

Gone are the days when Dun Frank, bless his soul, brought out a doll with “the dress” that more or less was the one upon which all the attire of the girls of Santu Rokku in Valletta, was modelled.

I got more stick when it came to her hairstyle. I thought it was absolutely mean to wake up a child at 5.00am on such a special day, just so that the hairdresser could fiddle about with crimpers, straighteners, or up-styles. Inevitably, I later found out that some mothers had attached combs to long veils and insisted that these be positioned there and then – albeit the child was still in jeans and a t-shirt.

I bunched my daughter’s hair at the nape of her neck, and my friend Rose twisted strands of it until they curled upon themselves, and secured each “knot” with a Bobby Pin.

I got some an incredulous look from the salesgirl who “offered” to get shoes with kitten heels, so that my daughter could “feel like a young lady”.

The pictures and the souvenirs came from the same shop as those of the boys.

We have all heard scary stories about how over-the-top celebrations end up costing thousands of Euro – this after the constant murmurs in the pews about how the celebration of the Mass “is too long”.

There are the true urban myths of the girl with a gown that looked like a Christmas tree (yes, the lights actually flickered on and off), and the other one who turned up at church in a decorated karrozzin.

There is the party for twins, held at a five-star hotel so that the parents could invite all those to whom they owed an invitation, in one fell swoop. Only – the children were not present, because not only had they fallen asleep at the start of the proceedings… had they been there, they would have been the only children present.

How many parents do you know, who boast that they chose the “wedding reception menu” for children’s party?

I have ferried my own kids, when they were still in single digit ages, to cigarette-smoke infested parties where the alcohol was flowing freely, and no one batted an eyelid when a child asked for a liqueur. This is where I suddenly remembered we had to be somewhere else (home!) within two hours.

My friend Tania’s son is having his First communion soon, and we were talking about how important such a Sacrament is in a person’s life. At one point, she grinned and showed me her (plain, unvarnished) fingernails. Then she told me that one of the children’s mothers had been saying her manicure would involve “lace and gemstones”.

This is by no means a unique perspective. It is also, probably, one of the reasons that parents are no longer seated by their children, but in the rows behind them. Some hats worn on these occasions, likely candidates for Easter Bonnet competitions, not only impede the view of those unfortunates sitting behind their wearers, but prove to be terrible (in every sense of the word) distractions.

On all six such occasions, I couldn’t help wondering how certain headgear could ever have been concocted, if not in a psychedelic nightmare; how people actually thought they looked fine and dandy in it, and, most importantly, how they kept it on when, balancing on vertiginous heels, they tilted their head to mutter something sotto voce to their spouse… probably about someone else’s outfit.

I use the word “outfit”, of course, liberally. Any garment that has to be adjusted ten times in as many minutes is a waste of time and money. Many women will tell you that they wear sleeveless dresses “because of the heat”, as if six inches of sleeve will make any appreciable difference. It becomes a question of decorum when the armhole is wide enough for the lingerie to be visible – but it is a question of bon ton when underarm hair is also visible. Wearing a scarf – be it of diaphanous silk or gossamer lace – as one must, inside a church, defeats the “heatstroke” excuse, does it not? And when you whip it off, the photos highlight sweat stains and bingo arms.

You will notice I have not mentioned religion, except in passing; I did this intentionally. I just wanted to highlight the tawdry frippery that alienates some of us from the real meaning of what receiving the Sacraments ought to be like.


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