In Hungary, we celebrate not only the birthday of our loved ones, but also their name days. In the calendar, each day is dedicated to one or more specific names, which is an excellent occasion to get together and celebrate. But how does that work, and where does it come from?
Name day celebrations
A name day is a chance to celebrate, just like a birthday. The occasion is usually considered “smaller”: if there is a party at all, expect a smaller get together, with no fancy cake, and smaller gifts. However, it all depends on the family and on the individual, so if you are not sure, it is best to ask.
If you want to know when your Hungarian friend’s name day is, you can look it up in a calendar. Paper based calendars often list the names of the day, while some of them have an index of names at the end. You can also check the Book of Hungarian First Names (“Utónévkönyv”, which is updated every decade or so). However, these days it is easiest to search online: you can simply search the name and add “névnap” to the query, or check the database of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. There are also phone apps that show you the names of the day.
Where do name days come from?
Celebrating name days is part of our Christian heritage. In the Catholic calendar, saints have their own holidays, and in Catholic communities choosing a name for your child also meant choosing a patron saint for them. On the holiday of that saint, the person wearing the same name also had a celebration, often in the form of a party or a feast. In time, Protestant communities also adopted the tradition of celebrating name days (but not celebrating the holiday of the saint). Nowadays celebrating name days is not so much a religious but a Hungarian tradition (although name days are celebrated not only in Hungary, but also in most Slavic, Scandinavian, and Baltic countries as well as in Spain).
Some names have more days in the calendar, and some only one or none. This is because the first name days were all related to saints. One saint can have various holidays for various life events like birth, death, performing miracles or other notable deeds, while there are also saints who share the same name but have different holidays. This is why there are 10 days for Katalin and 33 days for Mária in the calendar. If your Hungarian friend has various name days, it is best to ask them which one they celebrate.
As time passed, new names were assigned to days without holidays. Now the calendar is “full” with names, and many names share the same day. When a new name is added to the list of available first names, either a date is assigned to it, or people can celebrate on the day of a connected name (e.g. Kitti is a form of Katalin, so you can celebrate it on Katalin’s day), or no date is assigned. This latter happens most with foreign names that have no connection with Hungarian tradition. In these cases, the Academy suggests to celebrate on one of the “cumulative” name days, which are the 15th of January, April, July, and October.
Traditions connected to various name days
Name days are not only important for individual celebrations. Some of them have traditions of their own, with feasts, parades, divination, or weather forecast. Here, have a taste:
- 3 February, Balázs: After the mass, the priest holds two lit candles crossed in front of each parishioner to save them from ailments of the throat and other diseases.
- 5 September, Lőrinc (~Lawrence): They say “Lawrence pisses in the watermelon”. The best season for melons is August, but come September you should be careful with your purchase because melons may be overripe. (Unfortunately, there is another day of Lőrinc on 10 August, any many people mix up the two.)
- 11 November, Márton (~Martin): Originally a day of St. Martin of Tours, and the day is connected to geese who did not let Martin hide from being made a bishop. On this day, it is traditional to have a feast of geese. If temperature is below freezing point on this day, we can forget a white Christmas.
- 30 November, András (Andrew): Girls can divine who their husband will be either through melting lead or cooking dumplings.
- 13 December, Luca (~Lucy): If you start making a chair from 13 different types of wood on this day, and then you stand on it in the church at the Christmas mass, you can spot witches among the attendants.
When is your name day?
Even if you do not have a Hungarian name, there is a chance that your name has a Hungarian equivalent which you can use for your name day if you decide to move to Hungary and want to join the tradition. Do you have Hungarian ancestors? You might even be eligible for citizenship. Take our free test to find out!