In Greece, Name Day celebrations (or onomastiki eorti) is a tradition that is often celebrated to a much greater extent than a birthday. Name days are extremely important to Orthodox Greeks. Every Orthodox Greek is given a Saint’s name, and celebrate their Name Day on the particular day that Saint is celebrated in the calendar. The importance placed on these days is similar to how birthdays are celebrated in other countries, and at first it can be difficult to understand this for non-Greek people. As with any other type of celebration or event, a Name Day is celebrated with plenty of joy, music, and food. If you are a Greek person living in the UK, your Name Day celebrations would be nice in an authentic Greek restaurant, where you can taste the flavours of home.
It is only ever coincidence if your Name Day falls on your actual birthday. Instead, people in Greece celebrate the day of the Saint that bears the same name as their given name. The conventions surrounding naming in Greece are quite strict even to this day, with some names used for many different people within a single-family generation. Traditionally, the eldest grandson in a family will bear the same name as the grandfather, and the eldest granddaughter given the name of the grandmother. That is why you often see so many people with the same name within Greek families, and what this also means is that they all celebrate the same Name Day as each other!
With such an emphasis on Name Days, most Greek people let their birthday pass without much fuss at all. You’ll find that many of the big feasts to celebrate Saints take place on the eve of the day, with visits to the local church, and big parties full of food and drink. Small gifts are exchanged at these parties and there is often plenty of meat dishes and big platters of food to share between the entire party present. Within family homes, there is often a big celebration and feast, especially if grandparents are still alive and there are multiple people in each home sharing the same name and Name Day. It is at these types of celebrations where you see, taste, and feel the real love put into Greek food and the idea of family and community.
It is important to stay close to your roots, and for Greek people this pull to home and family is felt in a much stronger way than in other cultures, and on your Name Day you might want to celebrate in the style you are used to back home. For those Greek people living in the UK, or for those who have married into a Greek Orthodox family, celebrating your Name Day is an important part of the culture. Find an authentic Greek restaurant and book a meal with your friends, family, and loved ones, share platters of food, and eat the food your mother and grandmother would have served up in Greece when growing up.