Americans may be able to name that tune, but we are behind many countries when it comes to naming the days. Yes, sure we have names for the days of the week, but we don’t have people’s first names assigned to specific days of the year. Gasp! We here in the U.S. have overlooked the name day celebration.
How is this oversight even possible? If we have Hug Your Cat Day (6/4), Sewing Machine Day (6/11), Meteor Watch Day (6/30), Lazy Day (8/10), and Pickle Day (11/14), shouldn’t we observe name days as well? You’d think retailers would have jumped on another opportunity to empty consumers’ pockets due to crass commercialization.
While Pickle Day may a silly celebration, name day celebrations are respectable and venerated observances in numerous countries including, but not limited to, Germany, Russia, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Spain and France. The tradition involves having one day of the year associated with a person’s given name. Its observance is similar to a birthday, but it has nothing to do with age.
Name day is a custom which developed in the Middle Ages. It is widely observed in Catholic and Orthodox traditions because it originated with the Christian calendar of saints. Catholic believers who were named after a saint would celebrate on the saint’s feast day while Orthodox believers would (morbidly) celebrate on the day of the saint’s death. The church was inclined to celebrate name days over birthdays as the latter was viewed as a pagan tradition. Although name days are still observed today, there is no longer any direct connection to Christianity.
So, how is a name day celebrated? The answer depends on the country in which the event is being observed. In Greece, these days are huge events and are celebrated much more than birthdays. In most cultures name day celebrations take the form of open house parties. Of course, there’s no birthday cake. Doesn’t that take the cake?
In Hungary, women typically receive flowers to mark their name day. Sticking to the name theme, perhaps it would be fitting for Rose to receive roses. Iris to receive irises, and Daisy to receive daisies on their name day. Men, on the other hand, generally receive a bottle of alcohol as a name day gift. Jose Cuervo coming up for Jose! Jim Bean on the way for Jim! Children often take sweets to school to share with fellow students on their name day. The teacher, however, might not find it so sweet to have her pupils hyped up on sugar.
Name day appears in some literary works such as Anton Checkov’s play “Three Sisters.” Act I finds Irina celebrating her name day. Good move on the playwright’s part to cleverly work in a name day celebration so we know what the character’s called. Not familiar with Chekhov’s story? Well, you are in good company as I haven’t read it either. I’d lose big time on “Jeopardy” if the category was Russian works written in 1900.
Name day was a huge hit with the Russian czars and emperors who typically celebrated the event in a lavish way. Alexandra Fyodorovna, spouse of Nicholas II, decided to have a sumptuous luncheon on her name day in 1897. The menu listed four types of wine (including champagne). duck, trout, and mutton chops, but no cake. The Russian imperial family also followed a tradition of giving name day gifts such as diamonds and pearls.
And how does one know when to plan his big name day celebration? Official lists are issued with the current assignment of names to days. These name day calendars vary by country. Don’t want to spring for a name day calendar? Not to worry. In Hungary, at least, the name of the day is identified in the daily paper. Better read all about it to make sure you aren’t missing your name day or that of someone near and dear to you. Don’t subscribe to a newspaper? No problem. Name day calendars for the country of your choice can be found on line.
Since it is a small world after all, I am considering celebrating my name day on each day it is observed. Never fear if you missed wishing me “Happy Alice Day” back on June 6th (German calendar) or on June 11th (Austrian calendar). “Happy Alice Day” will occur again on September 16th in Estonia, on December 16th in France, on January 9th in Italy and on January 15th in the Czech Republic. In a nod to my name, you may want to give me an arrangement with alyssum, a flowering plant which caterpillars love but bunnies won’t touch, as a name day gift.
While a name day might be fun, I am not sure that such an observance would be easy to establish here in the U.S. Let’s just say that there are plenty of unusual names out there. Would an individual be emotionally scarred if forced to celebrate a name day designated for odd names beginning with Q? Moreover, most of us are so busy on a day to day basis that we are doing well to know what day of the week it is much less whose name day it is. Why don’t we just enjoy each day as it comes and treat all those around us with kindness like it really was their name day?
Just WONDER-ing: How did you get your first name? Is that a story worth celebrating? Would you celebrate name day if it was observed here in the U.S.? If so, how would you celebrate?