Photo from equinoxio.org
The challenge with being an American in Athens is sometimes people don’t know whether you celebrate American holidays, Greek holidays or both.
Those familiar with Greece know that people tend to put more emphasis on name days than birthdays, as many are named after saints and martyrs, and all have their respective days on the Orthodox calendar. This is common in many countries.
In a way, I find this easier to remember than birthdays because if you know someone’s name (and hopefully you do!), a radio DJ, newspaper, website/blog or someone you know usually reminds you if it’s a particular day. I also find it more meaningful because it takes you back to the origins of a name and bonds people as a collective — including family members who often share the same name — instead of only celebrating the individual. Never mind that I’m broke on Nikos’ name day due to knowing a baker’s dozen (13)!
Name days are also great at deflecting the question, “How old are you?” Age is unimportant, unlike a birthday that could have your cake looking like an angry fireball if you’ve got smart ass friends like I do, who light a candle for each one of your years.
The majority of people I know celebrate both their birthday and name day because, as Graffic mentioned, it meets the basic “any reason for a party.”
If you have a name that corresponds to a saint, it works out quite nicely. But if you’re not of Greek origin or have a name on the calendar, people haven’t a clue whether you celebrate or not, so either they call and ask or simply stay away, especially if there’s been a recent death, illness or other hardship.
I have that mixed situation every year. My name day also typically falls on American Thanksgiving or I’m out of the country, so sometimes even I forget.
Some call to wish me “Chronia polla” without hesitation, many stay away, some call and almost apologetically ask if I celebrate. Some say it doesn’t matter if I do or not because they want to talk to me (mostly women) or take the opportunity to wish me well regardless.
I can understand the confusion. On one hand, I’ve been in Greece for
11 13 years and always call and wish people “chronia polla” on their name days and birthdays, even if I’m in the middle of an Egyptian desert or tea plantation in India. On the other hand, I’m not Orthodox Christian and stopped clubbing and throwing parties at my house because it was too much work to celebrate while packing and preparing to leave the country on vacation.
So what I get is something I like to call, “chronic pollo,” a mixed greeting invented by an adorable boy in Astoria, New York named Philippo, which roughly translates to persisting chicken. He couldn’t say, “chronia polla.”