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Written by Paula Jones Last updated: March 12, 2007
Across Europe there is a tradition of celebrating the Name Day in addition to a birthday. Find out what it’s all about…
It is a tradition of attaching personal names to each day of the year and the persons with that name celebrating on that day; sort of like having a second birthday.
The tradition of name days goes back to the Middle Ages and originates in the list of holidays celebrated in commemoration of saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church. The church promoted the celebration of saints or name days in preference to birthdays, which were seen as a pagan tradition. There are different official lists of names for each country, though some names are celebrated on the same day in many countries.
Name days are associated with the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church. According to the tradition, guests are supposed to come uninvited and the person who has the celebrated name is supposed to be prepared to treat everyone. Today people prefer to entertain their guests either at home or at a bar or a restaurant. The celebrations are similar to those at birthdays, but usually the food, the music and the feel is somewhat more traditional.
It is still common for Czech parents to choose the name for their baby from the name day calendar. The original list was the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, but changes have been made to reflect the present-day usage of names. Name days are usually less important than birthdays but Name day celebrations can be, and often are, held together with friends or co-workers of the same name.
Every day except New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and February 29th is a name day and follow the calendar published by the Helsinki University’s Calendar office, which reviews the list each year according to the popularity of names. For each day there are names in both Finnish and Swedish. The Finnish Orthodox Church has its own calendar of name days, corresponding to the feasts of Orthodox saints.
According to the Greek Orthodox Church, every day of the year has been dedicated to the memory of a saint or a martyr. It is more common to celebrate name days than birthdays in Greece and Cyprus. There is usually a big celebration with festive meals, special desserts and gifts. Macedonians wait for people to come to their home and it is the duty of the name day person to serve the guests.
Each day except 29th February is a name day with up to four names for each day of the year. A popular way to celebrate a name day is at the workplace, with colleagues arriving one after another bearing flowers, sweets and small presents. Children celebrating a name day are expected to bring sweets for classmates and teachers.
Name days are widely celebrated in addition to birthdays, traditionally involving friends at the celebrant’s home. There’s plenty to eat and drink, with the celebrant getting gifts, just like on a birthday.
The name day calendar is separate from the usual calendar. Celebrations range from cards and flowers to a party similar to a birthday.
These are similar to birthday presents: a card, fresh flowers, a box of chocolates and a cake. In many European countries, it is customary to always give flowers for celebrations in odd numbers (like 7, 9, 11) as even numbers (like 6, 8, 10) are for funerals. Since it’s all about the name, personalised gifts of any kind are a great idea.