Do you celebrate name days? Chances are, your answer is either an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ or a slightly confused ‘err, what?’
In honor of just having celebrated my own name day (mark your calendar for January 27th if you don’t want to miss it next year!), this post is about the fun tradition of marking name days. Did you know that the Latvians are among the world’s most ardent supporters of this custom?
What are name days?
In a nutshell, name days mean given names associated with the days of the year. According to Wikipedia, This custom dates back to the Middle Ages and Christian church calendars of saints. People named after a saint would celebrate their name day on that saint’s feast day (depending on the branch of Christianity, usually either the day of the saint’s birth or death).
Over the centuries, in this tradition has evolved and, in most countries, is no longer tied to Christian beliefs. According to the website Behind the Name, currently, only around 15 countries across the world have official lists of name days. Judging from their calendar that combines all names by month and date, there are very little similarities from one country to the next. For example, if your name is Anna, you can celebrate your name day in 12 countries on 9 different dates.
Name days in Latvia
In Latvia, the first church calendars with name days (“vārda dienas” in Latvian) date back to the late 18th century. Nowadays the official calendar of name days is curated by the State Language Centre who has an expert committee dedicated to this matter. Their job is to keep the name day calendar up to date and decide on requests to add new names. The current version of the calendar includes just over 1,000 given names.
No name days are celebrated on the 29th February (leap day), and the 22nd May is a celebration day for those whose names are not included in the calendar. In addition, an official extended calendar exists with around 5,000 given names.
Name days vs. birthdays
So how do you celebrate a name day the Latvian way? All in all, it’s almost the same as a birthday, with the difference that you might get much more congratulations. Your name’s on the calendar of every single person you know!
There is a saying that for birthday parties you need an invitation, for name days you can just show up. It doesn’t work exactly like that but most people bring some snacks or sweets to the office or to the school to treat all the well-wishers. Whether you want to throw a party is up to you but you will certainly end your day with flowers, gifts, and cake.
To sum it up, name day is an awesome celebration that should much more popular around the world! Having a proper Latvian name day was a big factor for me when deciding on our kids’ names. And, seriously, from all the traditions that we might want to pass on to our multicultural kids, this one is a no-brainer. A second birthday every year where you eat cake, get gifts and celebrate? What’s not to love?!