Athens, June 2018

Athens, June 2018

Greek Namedays

Namedays are a special and important part of Greek life because the very names themselves go back to the very beginning of Greek culture. Coming down to us through the ages are the marvelous names of heroes, saints and mythological figures such as the mighty Herakles, Odyessus, Alexander, Socrates, Plato, Constantine, Helen and many many more. Of course they go on, and on and in fact, many of them have changed little over time and are still used today. For instance, the name 'Ioannis' is the derivative of 'John', and 'Maria' the root for Mary. All these names and more are all derived from the original Greek.

In the beginning of the Greek Orthodox religion, these celebrations were mainly observed as 'saint's days, but later became individual 'namedays'. All in all, namedays now are considered much more important than a person's actual birthday. In most cases, it is a tradition now in Greece, that when a person has a nameday, he or she gives a party where refreshments such as coffee, cake, liquor and hors d' oeuvres are offered to friends and acquaintances alike. In the work place, it's a little more subdued, but the nameday person still offers something like sweets or cakes. In business it's always good to remember namedays as a sign of mutual respect for bosses and workers alike. In fact, many business people these days send telegrams to associates and clients on their nameday as a way of keeping up good public relations. All in all, namedays are a fun and charming aspect of Greece which are celebrated with more flare in the small towns and villages.With small children, the nameday becomes a more of a celebration where a festive party is usually given, which continues every year up until about the age of twelve. During a nameday, it's always a good idea to call your friends to wish them 'chronia polla', or 'have a good year' as a sign of appreciation, and at this point in the conversation, your friend will usually let you know if he's having a nameday party or not at his house. If he is and you are invited, whatever you do, don't come empty handed because it's customary to take along a gift. Usually a box of sweets, flowers or a plant will do. In some cases, you can even have the plant delivered if you can't get to the florist. Another good idea is to bring along some wine, liquor, or a more personal gift if you wish, depending on how well you know the person.


In Greece and Cyprus, a name day (Greek: εορτή, eortē, or γιορτή, yiortí, "feast") is celebrated in a similar way to a birthday. According to the Orthodox Church, every day of the year is dedicated to the memory of at least one (usually more than one) saint or martyr. If someone is named after a saint, then there is a big celebration on his or her name day. In Greece and Cyprus many names derive from long pagan tradition, and there may not be a Christian saint by the same name. In such a case the person is said "not to have" a name day, or they may choose to celebrate on All Saints' Day. The vast majority of name days are on the same date every year; the few exceptions are names directly or indirectly associated with Easter, and are floating. This facilitates social interaction, as all Greek language calendars include detailed name day lists. Some name days coincide with major Christian feasts, for example people whose names are Chrēstos or Christine have their name day on Christmas, people named after St. Basil have their name day on New Year's Day, Anastásios and Anastasía on Easter Sunday, María and Mários on the Dormition or on the Presentation, etc.


The traditional format of a name day celebration is an open house: no specific invitations are extended and all well-wishers are welcomed. This is not uniformly observed: a family or person may choose to celebrate with invited guests only, at home, at a restaurant, a bar or a club, or not celebrate at all (e.g. following a recent bereavement). Name day celebrations are similar to birthdays, except for expected differences (e.g. there is no cake with candles on a name day). Children celebrate their birthdays and name days equally festively; as the person grows up the emphasis shifts decisively to the name day and birthdays become lower-key, family affairs.

Entertainment provided by the celebrating host may include formal or informal meals, drinks, desserts, music, dancing, etc. It is the person being celebrated that arranges the party and serves the guests, instead of the guests fussing over the celebrant. It is poor form for a guest to arrive at such a celebration "empty-handed", although the gift offered may be something as financially trivial as a card or a few flowers. Money gifts are also considered poor form, except if the celebrant is a child or teenager and the gift is offered by an adult relative or a godparent. It is poor form to celebrate birthdays and name days in too grand a fashion if the two days are close to each other. In such cases the celebrations are best merged. It is also common to shift a name day celebration to the following Friday or Saturday evening if a dinner party is planned.

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