Greek life

Greek name days

Greek Orthodoxy dedicates nearly every day of the year to a Saint or Martyr.   When someone is named after one of those saints, that day becomes their “name day” and is celebrated like a birthday —  “Chronia Polla” is the greeting for both happy birthday and happy name day.  It literally translates to ‘many years.’  There are some 3800 first names in Greece that correspond to a name day.

Greece separates church and state on a technicality, and though there are citizens who aren’t Greek Orthodox, they are definitely a small minority. Some name days are national holidays. August 15, the feast of the Ascension in both Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, is a b-i-g one. “Panagia” means ‘all holy’ and is one of the names given to Mary, the mother of Christ.  So, anyone with a derivative of this name celebrates August 15 as their name day.  Both Peter and Papou are named Panagiotis. At churches named for Panagia, there are celebrations all day.

October 26 (this week), is St. Demetrios day. Demetrios was a 4th Century military saint; he’s quite revered. He comes from Thessaloniki, and there’s a large church there where his remains were found. St. Demetrios is also the protector of the pretty Athens suburb of Psychiko, so that area has a holiday of sorts this week, too – i.e., no school on the 26th. James, the English version of Demetrios, is celebrated this day also. The photo in this post is St. Demetrios church in Psirri, an old Athens neighborhood.

St. Mixalis Day is November 8.  Mixalis (Michael) was an archangel (who’s thinking of John Travolta yelling “BATTLE!”?) who led the Jews out of Egypt; he also announced to Abraham that he had to sacrifice his son and he’s the patron saint of paratroopers. November 8 is a day for all angels and archangels, so think Gabriel, Angelos, Angeliki too.

It’s coincidence, but kinda cool, that both Michael’s and Peter’s name days are just a few days before their real birthdays. Peter got name day gifts, even. Papou gave Demetri a beautiful set of binoculars as an early name day gift; now he can see details on the passing ships!

Tyler doesn’t have a name day per se, as there is no Saint Tyler in Orthodoxy.  In his case, he celebrates on November 1, All Saints Day.

My name day is December 25, for obvious reasons.

The majority of name days are the same date every year, but there are a few “floaters” that are determined by the start of Lent and when Easter falls. Interested in your name day?  The Church of Greece maintains a database where you can look it up.


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