There has been a recent rise in alternative secular communion ceremonies for families seeking to avoid the religious element of the ceremonies. 

Generally received between the ages of seven and nine, the First Holy Communion is an important rite of passage for many Irish schoolchildren but is now being replaced by "stepping stones" or "coming-of-age" rituals among some non-religious families. 

Yvonne Cassidy, Celebrant with the Irish Ethical Celebrant Society, told RTÉ Radio's Drivetime that alternative ceremonies to communions remain a relatively new idea but added that it has grown significantly in 2023. 

"We've seen this over the years, say for instance with baby naming instead of the baptism," Cassidy told RTÉ. 

"There seems to be, definitely, a bit of a buzz around it this year more so than any other year that I've seen." 

Cassidy said she has an eight-year-old daughter who attends a Catholic school and is in a communion year. However, Cassidy said she was not raising her daughter in the Catholic faith and did not want her to take part in the communion ceremony. 

Instead, she organized an alternative ceremony for her daughter and quickly attracted the interest of other parents in the school. 

"I was planning to do something just with my daughter. Then talking to other parents at the school drop off, there was a bit of interest." 

A total of eight children took part in Cassidy's alternative ceremony. 

"[It was] just a really fun ceremony. It was great that they had a group because I think it added a bit to the day for them." 

She said the alternative ceremony was about celebrating "milestones" in children's lives. 

"They move from the baby phase into this more independent phase, and we would see a lot of ceremony and ritual happening around that age." 

Sarah Gardiner, another member of the Irish Ethical Celebrant's Society, said there has been a huge increase in alternative ceremonies since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"While secular weddings and funerals and even baby naming to a certain degree have become more and more popular over the last decade or so, parents are now wanting to mark their child's milestones in a non-religious way," Gardiner told 

"Rituals have been around for thousands of years so it's innate to want to celebrate the big occasions in your child's life. Demand started in 2020 and the growth has been huge — I'm inundated with inquiries." 

Gardiner explained that "stepping-stone" ceremonies have been introduced as alternatives to communions, while "coming of age" ceremonies are alternatives to confirmations. 

"Unlike religious celebrations, it's the child's day so they can pick a poem or lyrics of a song to read or whatever they like to make things special." 

She said the alternative ceremonies are tailored to each individual child and ensure that every child has their own special day.