One thing I found so wonderful on returning to Iceland after many years as a gypsy was rediscovering a sense of community. I loved – and still love – belonging to a tribe. I loved being part of the ebb and flow of life – being present to share births, deaths, birthdays, Christenings, confirmations, graduations… all the rites of passage that are so good to share with your own flesh and blood. I love the feeling that when something big happens in the community – good or bad – it washes through like a tidal wave and everyone is moved by it. It’s nice. It’s a good feeling.
Yet community also has a downside. It’s called Pressure to Conform. Basically, belonging comes at a price: you have to validate the tribe through your behaviour. And boy, did I make some mistakes when I re-entered this community as an outsider. I did not know, for instance, that when somebody in Iceland has a Big Birthday [turning 20, 30, 40 etc.], a corresponding Big Gift is required. In other words, you do not turn up wearing jeans, with, say, a bottle of red wine or a basket of bath stuff from The Body Shop. And when somebody is having a confirmation, you similarly do not turn up with, say, a gift of pretty stationery or a CD.
Confirmation season is now upon us. [Or should I say, ‘Conformation season’.] And AAH is up for her turn in April.
In Iceland, confirmation takes place in the year when someone turns 14. Ostensibly it is a rite designed to confirm your Christening, meaning that at the tender young age of 13 or 14 you are required to get down on your kneecaps and pledge your eternal troth to Jesus, in front of Christ’s representative on earth [the pastor] and your entire family [who have turned up at the church along with the families of those who are being confirmed alongside you].
Now, YT is a wee bit of a cynic. And finds the whole thing smacking of hypocrisy. I find it exceedingly hard to believe that at the tender young age of 13 or 14 – particularly in our secular Western society – people are mature enough to take a vow of that calibre. And I do find the hallelujah! that is The Confirmation a tad offensive, because in the vast majority of cases it is plain as day that the driving force behind the confirmation is its material rewards.
Because if Christmas is considered a materialistic free-for-all, the Icelandic confirmations are even more brazen. I mean, at least at Christmas there is a general spirit of goodwill-towards-men and all that jazz. The confirmation just seems to be about the dosh. These days, anyone hoping to profit from the confirmations is advertising like gangbusters, in the media, through brochures, or with cunningly designed and targeted ‘special offers’ that arrive in envelopes addressed to the parents of the confirmation child [names and everything – they’ve done their research]. Banks, photographers, catering companies, bakers, florists… “Dear confirmation family. Now that the big event is imminent, we would like to make you aware of …” etc. etc.
And the pressure is enormous. To conform. The conformation [sic] child must have a whole new conformation outfit and the special conformation hairstyle [fashions vary from year to year]. He or she must also have the conformation banquet including the specially ordered conformation cake, to be served at the big conformation reception after the event, to which the whole extended family is invited. To these receptions, guests are to bring lavish gifts. Cynics [like me] like to quip that the price of admission to a confirmation reception is ISK 5,000 [USD 83, GBP 42] minimum. Of course the closer your relationship to the confirmation child, the more lavish the gift. The most common gifts from parents to child are stereo systems, televisions, queen size American beds, computers and trips to language schools overseas. Horses – the real live kind – are also popular. With all this, it’s not hard to understand why the young confirmation people are eager to get down on their knees and take the vows – after all, the rewards are out of this world. My guesstimate is that the average confirmation child takes home ISK 200,000 [USD 3,333, GBP 1,700] in cash, in addition to the lavish presents mentioned above.
Now since I am such a cynic, I’m glad at least that AAH has opted for a civil ceremony. Instead of going to classes for a year to learn about Christ and Christianity, she attends a course lasting about 12 weeks, on things like family, world peace, morality, acceptance of others’ differences, gender relations and sexuality, responsibility, environmental issues and different types of faiths.
Which to me is a Very Good Thing.
I totally and unequivocally support her freedom to choose and to stay true to herself by not taking a vow she doesn’t mean. Even though I am not an atheist, have a strong faith, and even belong to the Church of Iceland.
Unfortunately, here in Iceland there are many people who do not share this view. I have over the course of the last while been absolutely aghast at the reaction both she and I have received when we have told people that AAH has opted for the civil confirmation. Expressions of disbelief. Cries of ‘Aren’t you a Christian?!’ A hint of disdain. Displays of snobbery. Even blatant contempt and a snarky reminder that “a civil ceremony is not a confirmation”.
Shrug. What can you say? I tell myself it’s their fear of the one who will not conform, and remind myself in the Christian spirit that ‘they know not what they do’. Then get on with the business of preparing for my daughter’s civil confirmation.
MEANWHILE WE HAVE WEATHER
And today it is absolutely beautiful and incredibly cold. EPI and I actually went out for a run today in temps of –9°C [15.8 F] and have lived to tell the tale. Daybreak was at 7.02 and nightfall will be at 19.26.