Cultural: Birthdays and name days

Note: I am writing as a foreigner living here in Poland but having no Polish relatives. If you read this as a Polish native and find something wrong, feel free to let me know - I am in a constant state of learning when it comes to cultural things.


Happy birthday.png

Back in the USA, among the people I know, birthdays were a special day for people. However, you didn't hold your own party - other people held it for you and in honor of you --especially the "big days like 40, 50, 60" - a wife might for a husband, or vice versa, coworkers for a friend, church people for their pastor, etc. Obviously, with children, of course, you invited your friends to your birthday party, but usually your mom planned the party.

I will say, that as an exception, my sis and I held a "sweet 16" party for ourselves- inviting some of our girl friends over. As I remember, it was the only birthday party we ever had - my mom didn't do them. We just held "in family" celebrations with a cake and a present or two. With five of us kids, she was afraid that the cost of having a birthday party would be too great - so rather than have one for one of us and not the next, she chose to forego them altogether in lieu of a family time (which was wise).

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Here, children at school aren't given anything on their birthday, but instead, are expected to take a piece of candy and give out a piece to everyone else in the classroom. They go around and put one piece on each desk. (I think it is kind of a "sweet" tradition.)

Mostly, I've been told, people over 25 do not celebrate birthdays here in Poland much.


taken from google images - I do not know these people - name day celebration

taken from google images - I do not know these people - name day celebration

With adults - if you want to have a birthday party, you plan it yourself and invite others to it. One time we were invited to friend's party at her house. She was going to fix all the food. I told her, "Ewa, you've got it backwards...we should fix the food for you and have you be the 'queen' for the day."  But no, that's not how it was. So, we all sat at the table talking and she was in the kitchen fixing last minute things. I felt very, very strange about that.  

I still wonder if that goes on everywhere - of it that was just the way she is. I think it was the last time she did that. She was very tired at the end of the day. There were probably 6 or 7 of us there - and we offered to help, but she said, "No."

Name days are similar to birthdays but are different.

This is where everyone 25 or older seems to celebrate in a big way.

It is the same idea as an American birthday party, though, of course, they do it for themselves. They take the cake to work with them and in honor of their name day to share with everyone else. Also, they celebrate by having people to their house or take them to a restaurant.  I'll explain "name day" in a minute.  This feels a little less "strange" to me, since you aren't actually aren't honoring yourself, but rather, the name/birthday of a saint.

They also regularly have a party at their home on Saturday (if they are working) in honor of their name day. They may have it at a restaurant as well.  It is taken quite seriously and people cancel other things in order to participate or have this.

On this calendar you see two names beside each number. Those are the names for today.

On this calendar you see two names beside each number. Those are the names for today.

Name day - what is it? Well, Polish roots are Catholic and they revere saints. These are birthdays of the saints that they honor.  On the Polish calendar, if you find a regular calendar, there are two names on every day - a guy's name and a girl's name. As far as I understand it, each name is on the calendar two times. You are to find your name on the date closest to your birthday and that is your "Name day".

If your name isn't on there?  It probably is. As I understand it, there are about 200 popular guy and 200 popular girl's names.  At one point, they didn't allow you to name your child something that wasn't one of those names.

This says "Name days" today are Marta and Maciej.

This says "Name days" today are Marta and Maciej.

(One lady I talked with had to convince the lady at the clerk's office to let her register her child's name as what it was (and that is in the last 20 years - not 50 years ago) as it wasn't one of the approved names.)

 I've found an on line Name Day calendar.  This one has several names for each date. Find your birthday, and then your name and find the "name day" that falls closest to your birthday and that is your "name day."

This is one of those things that I believe is tied directly to Roman Catholic roots - actually probably most religions that have and revere saints, though - such a Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox as well.  I've not done the research on that (yet).

And that's all for "name day" and "birthdays" here.

Have a fantastic, wonderful day, wherever you are!

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