St. Nicholas

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Name Day Celebration—St. Nicholas

Name days are commonly celebrated in many countries in Europe and Latin America, including, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Spain and Latin America. Because "Nicholas," and its variants, is a popular name, many name day celebrations are on St. Nicholas Day. If a family member has a "Nicholas" name, it is special to include a name day celebration as part of a St. Nicholas Day observance.

St Nicholas Icon
Greek icon on glass
St Nicholas Center Collection

In parts of Europe and Latin American Name Days are widely celebrated; these events are ofen even more important than birthdays. A name day celebrates the day particularly associated with a given name, traditionally the name of a saint. The custom developed during the Middle Ages and has been widely observed in both Orthodox and Catholic traditions. December 6 or 19 is the name day for people named for St. Nicholas.

A traditional name day celebration is larger and more festive than a birthday, which is often marked only by immediate family, or some places not at all. A name day party is for everyone—an open house where anyone may stop in, no invitation necessary. It is easy to know when it is a friend's name day, as the name itself gives it away.

In Greece every day of the year is dedicated to a Christian saint or martyr. If you share a form of the saint's name, the saint's feast day is the day to celebrate (or the evening before). As it is the saint's festival, everyone visits a local or nearby church named for the saint to light a candle and make an offering. This may be the only day in the year when a small or remote chapel is open. There is a big public festival if the saint is the town's patron saint.

Name Day well-wishers bring a small gift, such as flowers, chocolates, wine, a book or CD, wishing the honoree, "Hronia Polla," meaning "Many years," a wish for health and prosprerity. Young children may receive small monetary gifts.

Name day parties usually have been held at home, with special festive food on offer—an array of apetizers, cakes, and fancy desserts. The honoree plans the event and serves guests, not the other way around, as might be customary with birthday celebrations. It is now also common to hold the party in a restaurant or pub. Guests are more apt to be invited than in times past, when anyone at all might stop in.

In some places people with the same name have a joint party. Other places the name day may be observed at work, but not at home. The name day person then brings snacks for other workers and receives gifts of flowers, sweets, or small presents, in return. Children may take treats to school for classmates and teachers.

To help keep track of name days special name day calendars are available in Russia, Sweden, Finland, Greece and England.

St. Nicholas with symbols
Illustration from My Nameday
St Nicholas Center Collection

For a Nicholas Name Day, any of the St. Nicholas recipes would be appropriate. Decorations could feature a St. Nicholas figure, along with his symbols of an anchor, three gold balls or coins.

Suggestions for observing a child's name day

Name day vigil: a period of calmness, quiet, and preparation the evening before
Sing "Happy Name Day to You" to the tune of "Happy Birthday to You"
St. Nicholas Collects
Other prayers
Simple name day liturgy
Name day cake

Krsna Slava Serbian celebration of a family's patron saint

Links
Greek Orthodox Name Day Calendar
Happy Name Day a UK site with e-cards, calendar and more; lists names from more than fourteen countries
Czech Name Days
Swedish Name Day Calendar
Name Days for Bulgarian, Czech, Estoniah, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Latvian Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Slovak, and Swedish names
Latvian Name Days
My Name Day adaptation for Canadians and Americans, many names, not just saints
American Name Day Calendar
Description of Name Day customs in many countries

Many ideas for celebrating Name Days, especially with children, may be found in My Nameday: Come for Dessert by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1962. Purchase from amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk. Text available online here, but difficult to read.

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