Many visitors to Cyprus may not know that ‘Name Days’ are celebrated in Cyprus more than actual birthdays.
In Cyprus, and Greece, children are typically named after the Patron Saint of their region, with the eldest son often being named after his paternal grandfather, and the eldest daughter after her paternal grandmother. Because of this tradition it is common to see a continuation of names in the family line and often cousins will share names.
According to the Greek Orthodox Church, every day of the year is dedicated to the memory of at least one (usually more than one) saint or martyr (you can view the calendar by clicking HERE). The Name Day is the feast day of the saint after which a child was named. Some Saint’s Name Days actually get celebrated more than one time per year. In Greece and Cyprus many names derive from long pagan tradition (Greek antiquity), and there may not be a Christian saint by the same name – in these cases the person is said “not to have” a name day, or they may choose to celebrate on All Saints’ Day. The vast majority of name days are on the same date every year; the few exceptions are names directly or indirectly associated with Easter, and are floating.
Some name days coincide with major Christian feasts, for example people whose names are Christos or Christine have their name day on Christmas, people named after St. Basil have their name day on New Year’s Day, Anastásios and Anastasía on Easter Sunday, María and Mários on the Dormition or on the Presentation, etc.
Traditional Celebration of the Name Day:
The tradition is for a party to be thrown on the person’s Name Day. A BBQ and buffet at the house is usually prepared and there is lots of singing, dancing and drinking. Invites are not usualy given to join the celebrations of a Name Day – friends, family and neighbours are just expected to visit. Some may only stay a little while, as they will have other friends or family with the same name to visit. It is customary to take a small gift to the person celebrating their name day, usually this would be flowers or a small plant. Nowadays if the person is out celebrating their name day in a public bar then it is tradition that they will buy others drinks, rather than others buying them drinks as is commonly the case in the UK. It is also expected that a person will bring sweet or savoury treats for colleagues to their work place on their Name Day.
Each Greek Orthodox Church is also named after a saint, therefore there are also community celebrations for its Name Day, known as ‘Panigiria’, which include food, fireworks, and fairs. On the eve of the saint’s day, villagers and street-vendors may gather in the grounds of the patron saint’s church to sell local delicacies.