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How Poles celebrate namedays

Unlike most other nations, the people of Catholic Poland tend to attach more importance to the feast day of their patron saint than to birthdays. In the past, this was also common in other Catholic countries such as Austria and Bavaria (southern Germany) where the Namenstag was once widely celebrated.

Birthdays with cakes and blowing out candles are now commonly held for children in Poland, largely as a result of the strong western influence with which television captivates today’s audiences. But even in the 21st century, among adults, imieniny (namedays) are still far more popular.

A Polish calendar will list all names being celebrated on that particular day
A Polish calendar will list all names being celebrated on that particular day
Namedays are celebrated much the way birthdays are with one exception: no numbers are mentioned, displayed or hinted at in any way. So nobody would think of asking “Which nameday is this?”, and there are no greeting cards saying “Best wishes on your 10th or 21st Nameday!” Neither is there any set number of candles to blow out, so this celebration would seem to have a lot going for it among age-conscious Americans.

Arriving guests wish the solenizant or solenizantka (person celebrating a nameday) something like: “Wszystkiego najlepszego w dniu imienin” (“All the best on your nameday”) or elaborate on that general theme with: “Dużo zdrowia, szczęścia i pomyślności” (“Lots of health, luck and success”).

Guests usually present the host or hostess with cut flowers and a gift. For men it is often a bottle of liquor, a book, fishing equipment, etc. and for women – perfume, an article of clothing or something for the home.

Guests can expect to find tables laden with cold meats, aspic dishes, eggs in sauce, salads, relishes or pickles. Crystal carafes of home-made cordials, store-bought spirits and wines in their original bottles are prominently displayed on the table. A hot dish and desserts with tea and coffee are usually brought in later.

Toasts are raised “Za zdrowie solenizanta or solenizantki” (“To the health of the nameday celebrator”). The host reciprocates with: “Zdrowie miłych gości” (“To the health of our amiable guests”). The evening is spent amid good food, drink and fellowship. There is joking and flirting and, depending on the age and temperament of the crowd, someone may strike up a sing-along or roll up the rug for dancing. Naturally, no nameday party would be complete without serenading the host or hostess with “Sto Lat”.

Some namedays are extremely popular, meaning that on certain days every third or fourth flat in an apartment building and every fourth or fifth house in the village are celebrating. When Windows are open in warmer whether, the laughter, clinking of glasses and strains of “Sto Lat” carry far and wide. Among the older generation, extremely popular namedays include Andrzej, Jan, Józef, Jerzy, Wojciech, Stanisław, Michał and Zygmunt for men and Maria, Barbara, Zofia, Katarzyna, Krystyna, Anna, Jadwiga and Wanda for women.

Author/Source: Robert Strybel