Jan 10, 2007

Greek name day rant

People who are baptised and given a saint's name have an official name day to celebrate... well, their names. For example, all Yianies (Johns) celebrate on St.Yianis's, all Anthonies celebrate on St.Anthony's and so on.

Martyrs throughout ecclesiastical history were bestowed sainthood; Greek Orthodox Church marked a day to commemorate them, hence the name days. It's a big thing in Greece. Bigger than birthdays. In fact, Greek public servants are allowed a day or some hours off (depending on their supervisor, with no docking of wages) on their name day. Yes, THAT big.

People expect well-wishers to swarm in around them, phones to ring, cards to arrive and will treat you something in return. "Happy birthday" wishes, outside the immediate family, are usually acceptable until a kid turns 18, then the name day takes its place.

I never thought much about name days and what started out as an innocent Greek custom has turned into a nerve-wracking delirium of marking and checking calendars, adding alarms on cell phones and slapping of forehead "oh no, I forgot". And it pisses me off. I have a mythological goddess's name, named after my Grandmother. No one celebrated my name, because mythological and non-church-going names aren't kosher. Oddly, I married a man whose name is also not "church approved" either.

Several years ago, a neighbor happened to stop by on my birthday and I offered her some birthday cake. She looked at me as if I were from another planet.

"Why do you celebrate your birthday?"
"Because it's my birthday..."
"But you have a name day."
"No, I don't, I haven't seen it anywhere on a calendar."

Next day she dropped off a photocopy of a page from an official church book with name days. It seems that all mythological female names: Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis etc. are all crammed into September 1st and she had written a note: There is always All Saint's Day (Agion Panton) for you and your husband's non-Orthodox name to celebrate.

OK, lady. What.Ever.

The name-day frenzy is very stressful if you're not good at recollecting them, like I am. Recently, I forgot to wish a person I work for on his name day and we met in the corridor:
"You didn't call me on my name day. You know I'm picky about that". He is. He marks down all the people that visit and call him in order of appearance and phone call!
"Please accept my belated Hronia Polla (well wishes)", trying to excuse my forgetfulness but he just shook his head and walked away.
Today I saw him again and he's still giving me the cold shoulder.

Man, do I hate name days!

If anyone wants to keep track of 3800 (!) Greek name days visit this site.