A Summer in Spain: My First Communion

Helen Rogalski, Managing Editor

“Nos vamos” I hear someone say as they enter the private dining room that has been rented out for a celebratory lunch after my host sister’s First Communion. I look down at my watch, and see that it is 7 p.m. Only in Spain does lunch end this late.

A First Communion is a very special occasion across Spain, as the nation is predominantly Catholic. Invitations were sent out, outfits were planned, and relatives came into town. In fact, I planned my own arrival back to Madrid around this event.

I lived with this family for seven months during my gap year in 2014 and 2015. Therefore, I know them and their extended family very well. I have participated in a traditional Spanish birthday, Christmas, New Years, and Easter. This did not make Eva’s First Communion any less overwhelming.

The entire event from start to finish reminded me of a wedding. The girls got facials a few days before, my host mom got a new manicure, and a hair dresser arrived to our apartment at 7:15 a.m. on Sunday to do everyone’s hair.

At age 10, Eva really did look like a young bride. Her dress was all white and floor length. She had on white gloves and  a flower crown delicately placed on the top of her head. She looked beautiful!

While I am not Catholic, I have attended Catholic Church before. In fact, I have attended Mass here in Spain. And yet, I was still surprised by the Communion ceremony. Eva and some classmates stood in front of the stage, as a priest provided questions over a microphone, and those who knew the answer raised their hands.

All I could think was “what if someone gets an answer wrong?” But, they didn’t.

I remember now that Eva has been in preparation for her First Communion since I came to Spain for the first time in September of 2014. I admire this dedication and tradition.

After the ceremony, the family gathered for pictures before heading to the lunch and celebration. This family, true to its traditions, is made up of roughly seven sets of aunts and uncles as well as 20 cousins. No wonder the lunch lasted so long.

An hour or so later, we arrived to my host father’s hometown for lunch at a local restaurant. The adults, myself included, gathered around a long, narrow table and had our drink orders taken right way. Following the norm, each dish was brought out individually.

First, came plates of Spain’s famous cured ham, a fan favorite. The four large plates emptied within minutes.

Next came communal plates of salad. This was made up of slices of tomato, onion, and tuna, dressed in olive oil. To end the appetizers were plates of boiled shrimp, with the shell and head still on them, which is also the norm in Spain.

I smiled when these came out, remembering the first time I was served them. Someone in the family had told me that the way to eat them was to break off the head, suck out the brains, and then move on to the body.

After the appetizers were cleared, we were given a choice for the main course between steak, lamb, fish, or liver. All delicious, all common in Spain. Everyone ordered and continued to chat about kids, work, and life. The meals arrived, the conversation lessened, and people continued to eat.

Once the main course was cleared, I had to wonder how anyone could eat any more. And then, dessert was announced: chocolate and cream cake and a table of candy filled with the best and most loved Spanish sweets.

How could anyone say no? With dessert came coffee, which gave everyone enough energy to push through.

In just four hours, we had gotten through five plates of food each, many communal bottles of wine, and lots of bread. What better way to end this celebration than with alcoholic drinks for the adults? And, in no time, it was 7 p.m. and our lunch had just finished.

Lunch is the most significant meal of the day here in Spain, and not every lunch is this decadent. I have only experienced a meal this extensive during special holidays. And, what makes a holiday special in Spain, is not so much the event itself, but the gathering of all the family around a table for hours of food and laughter. This was one that I was happy to be there for.