THE CELEBRATION OF NAMEDAYS IN GREECE
by Gary Van Haas
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. 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 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.