Published February 29, 2016
It is the season of Confirmation, and it’s a big deal for every thirteen-year-old in Iceland (and a slight nuisance to everyone else). It’s the time of year when family members are dragged out of their homes, poured into their finest garb, made to cough up enough cash to fill an envelope, and forced to spend a perfectly fine Sunday at a bland afternoon party eating decorated cakes that mostly consist of marzipan and cream. All of this because little Sigríður is now all grown up and has professed her everlasting faith in God, the father of our lord, Jesus Christ… to get a brand new MacBook Pro!
Before the party, close family members gather in the neighbourhood church to watch the confirmation ceremony. It is your standard dry Nordic affair, with a monotone sermon about entering adulthood and a couple of ditties on the church organ, culminating with each kid kneeling before the altar and professing their faith with a memorised two-sentence phrase, which they’ve spent the last 24 hours agonising about not getting wrong. During the ceremony the kids wear long, white robes, like cult members. To retain their individuality, the boys usually infuse their hair with an assortment of gels and waxes, while the girls have unique and elaborate hairstyles done hours prior to the ceremony, only to guffaw in embarrassment when looking over photos years later.
Once the formalities are over with, the kids can start raking in the gifts at the party. The value of the gifts have gone up incrementally with each generation, from wristwatches (Baby Boomers) to stereo systems (Gen X-ers) to personal computers (Millennials). From the church, the kids get to bring home a leather-bound Book of Psalms, the primary function of which is not to be read, but to be posed with during the mandatory Confirmation studio photo session. The best pictures are then strewn across the house so party guests can be sure that mommy’s precious little jewel is indeed all grown up. The photos range from pious portraits in white robes to over-the-shoulder glamour shots while wearing the latest fashions, to show that even though you’ve welcomed Jesus into your life, you can still be fabulous.
Since the kid has to greet at least 50 people during the party, you’ll barely get enough face time to say “til hamingju” and hand over a cash envelope. The rest of the party is spent talking about the weather and current events with aunts and uncles while plotting an exit strategy. It is getting more and more common for parents and children to skip the religious aspect of this milestone and simply have a vague coming-of-age family gathering—with gifts, of course. Whatever else may be, I just hope that by 2040 we will have evolved past cakes draped in marzipan, when little Andrason will go through the motions of professing his faith in Jesus to get his brand new Pocket Hadron Collider.