Find out about the traditional namedays observed in Greece, and how they are celebrated...
The tradition of "namedays" exists to a greater or lesser extent in many European countries. It stems from the Christian church assigning specific days to specific saints: the assigned day is that saint's "feast day". In Greece, these name days are celebrated. For many, the "nameday" celebration is more important than a birthday, especially as people enter adulthood.
Many choose to celebrate their nameday as one might celebrate a birthday, with a party or by taking friends out for a meal or some drinks. Traditionally an "open house" would be held, where anyone could drop in for some food or sweets, however this is changing and is now generally restricted to good friends and by invitation. As always in Greece, it is the person celebrating who treats the guests. Although, if invited out or to a party it is appropriate to bring a small present such as a bottle of wine, flowers or perhaps a card.
It is customary to call and congratulate someone on their nameday.
The Names: Catholic and Orthodox Saints
The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches share saints that existed before one of the early schisms, therefore many names have name days in both churches. However, some do not (for example, Martin does not have a nameday in Greece, even though he is a well-known saint in western Europe). There are many saints in the Orthodox Church. Some names, such as Athena and Dionysis, are well known as Olympian gods, however, they are also saints' names and have celebrated namedays.
Names days and dates
Most names are fixed to specific dates. The exceptions are names associated with Easter, which are celebrated on different dates each year as Easter is a movable feast. Some names may "lose" or "move" their day on a certain year if an Easter celebration occurs on that date.
Number of names
Not all days have names assigned to them, while many have more than one name. The first of September is associated with the "40 Virgins" and 40 women's names are celebrated on that day.
Many names, including some common ones, have more than one feast day; it may be worth asking someone on which date they usually celebrate.
People whose name does not have a specific day may celebrate on Greek All Saints' Day. This is the case with traditional local names, such as Manousos from Crete, as well as foreign names. However many Greeks who don't have their "own" nameday do not bother celebrating on All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is linked to Greek Orthodox Easter and changes date from year to year.
Some first names are extremely common in Greece (while there is a huge variety in surnames) - names such as Konstantinos and George, Maria, Elena and Christina. On these, and other common names' days, tavernas and bars can be very busy.
Churches are generally named after saints, and on the feast day of the church's saint there may be a celebration in the neighbourhood. This may involve a funfair, a blessing in the church and a street market (Λαική/Laiki
). The street markets have stalls with a large variety of goods for sale, and may be open for business for several days, shutting the area off to traffic. Local schools may be closed on the day itself.
Small chapels and churches throughout Greece are visited by a priest on the feast day of the church's saint.
Some areas are associated with certain names. For instance, the name Dionysis is very common on the island of Zakynthos (Zanthe); some estimate that 50 percent of men on the island have this name, and festive celebrations take place there on 17 December.
Some villages are also associated with a specific saint and will have large celebrations on the feast day.
- For a comprehensive website with Greek namedays and the histories of some saints: Orthodox Name Days