Ikea, the Swedish company known for its affordable furniture and home accessories is set to open in Dublin next Monday. There’s plenty of talk about it due to the fact that many fear it will act like a magnet for crazed shoppers and plunge Dublin’s M50 into chaos. If you have to go to Dublin next Monday be warned if you were planning to be anywhere in the general vicinity of the new store, just in case these predictions are accurate. While Ikea is famed for being a vast retail emporium where ever it is situated worldwide, it is also known for its bold, often funny and sometimes banned television commercials. If you have access to You Tube on line it would certainly be worth your coffee break to look up the banned Ikea commercials from around the world. The television ads that are currently running here for the opening of the Dublin store fall under the slogan, “Ikea, bring out your rebel”.

I particularly like the one with the little girls in communion dresses coming down the laneway towards a church obviously about to make their First Holy Communion. As the proud parents look on smiling and taking pictures, suddenly we see faces changing to a mixture of surprise and even mild distaste and disapproval. The camera then shows a very proud couple and pan to one waving little girl in the lineup who is not wearing the traditional white dress but, God forbid, a pretty, summer dress with huge coloured dots. It finishes with the slogan; bring out your rebel and a voice over that tells us to “furnish your home to suit you and not to fit in”.

Refreshingly natural

Watching the ad I couldn’t help but think how refreshing and natural the little girl in the summer dress looked beside her preened and contrived peers in their miniature wedding attire. Let’s face it the whole First Holy Communion dress and accessory fetish that parents all over Ireland indulge in every year has certainly gone to the extreme. There was a time when the excess was perhaps confined to certain urban areas in Dublin but in the past few years the madness has extended all over the country.

I was recently shown some pictures of Holy Communicants from a small Kilkenny parish. In the group picture you couldn’t help but notice the make up, the fake tan, the overly contrived up dos, the bling, the huge tiaras and the ridiculously embellished dresses on one or two of these unfortunate children. Obviously a great deal of time and expense was poured into the day in order to change innocent little girls into these rather creepy looking dwarf brides. Then of course there are the limos, the horse drawn carriages and the lavish parties after the church ceremony. There were even a few stories of how one or two children were helicoptered to the church.

However my absolute favourite First Holy Communion story came from a Dublin parish. Apparently one little girl was delayed at the hairdressers on the morning of her Communion and her family made the decision to skip the church bit and just head straight for the party! The story goes that it was only when the school objected on the following Monday that the parents actually thought about it and even then were apparently miffed that they were being challenged about it.

Madness at tipping point?

With the recession now biting at everyone’s ankles perhaps the madness has finally reached a tipping point and communions in 2010 will be scaled back to a more reasonable level. And why shouldn’t it be acceptable for little girls to receive the sacrament in clothing that they might actually get to wear again? While I would agree that there has to be a level of appropriateness, is the fancy white dress with the itchy net underskirts and warm satin fabric really necessary? I’m not suggesting that you deprive a child of a new dress or a special day, but haven’t we pushed the whole thing in the wrong direction? What kind of a ‘special day’ is it supposed to be? In some places it has become nothing less than a peer competition with children being asked questions like, ‘How much did you make?’ Naturally there is an emphasis on the money as it’s traditional and historical, but the amounts these days, by anyone’s standards, are quite staggering.

Interestingly, as far back as 1993, four parishes in Bray, Co Wicklow brought in a system of full length, cotton robes for both girls and boys making their First Communion and Confirmation. The child is given the robe for the day and the parent is asked for a donation of €20 towards the cleaning of the robe after the event. Apparently most of the little girls do actually wear communion dresses underneath, but that’s left to the parent’s discretion. At the ceremony all the children are dressed the same and so the fashion competition is instantly removed. The other advantage of this system is that both boys and girls look equally angelic. Many parishes had noticed that the little boys always got less of a look in than the girls, as smart suits or trousers could rarely outshine a white dress and veil in the head turning department.

Personally I think it’s a very progressive idea and I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on all over the country. It would certainly remove the financial pressure from some parents who will no doubt be finding it hard in the coming year.

Don’t paint your child!

While the over the top clothes are one thing I believe it is even worse to paint your child with bottled orange chemicals in order for their skin to look better against the white dress. While gallons of fake tan are sold over the counter, all over the world many people forget that the skin is porous. Whatever you rub on your skin will go into your system. It’s awful to think that the naturally beautiful skin of an innocent child is defaced in such a way. Perhaps the downturn will force everyone to come back down to earth and on reflection it might not be such a bad thing after all.