Sunday, June 3, 2007

Name Days (Vardadienas)

If you know anyone with the first name of Dailis, Inta, Intra, Jūnijs or Sintra, be sure to phone them today (June 3) and wish them a happy name’s day. Latvia is one of many countries that enthusiastically observe this practice.

The associations between the days and the names have arisen for many reasons, but primarily because the Roman Catholic Church held a festival for a saint of that name on that day. For instance, the church feast of Saint Michael is on September 29, and as a result that is also the name day for Mikeļis or Mikus (Latvian versions of Michael). In some countries, one's name day is more important than one's birthday, and sometimes gifts are given. In Latvia, frequently the celebrant will bring refreshments to the office on his name day. One of the most popular treats is a pretzel-shaped sweet bread called kliņģeris, also used as the Latvian birthday cake (the link will take you to an online recipe). In the foreign languages department at the University of Latvija where I taught as a Fulbrighter, on someone’s name day my colleagues sat down between classes to eat kliņģeris and chocolates filled with liqueur—washed down with coffee and a shot of brandy or Rigas Melnais Balzams. (I found it a little hard to teach a 90-minutes class afterwards. I'm not going to devote a posting to balzams, but it's something you need to know about to fully appreciate Latvia--another link)

On someone’s names day, colleagues arrive with flowers, sweets, and small presents. Celebrating name days at home is not as popular as celebrating a birthday, although it may vary depending on the period of time between one's birthday and name day.

Each year the Latvian calendar is printed with name days marked. Just for fun I looked to see how many of the members of our traveling group might have names days. Here is what I found chronologically:

January 6 Arnita (is that close enough to “Arnhild”?)
January 16 Lija (Lia)
March 19 Jāzepina (Joey)
April 18 Laura
April 30 Linda
May 28 Vilhelms (Bill)
May 30 Jean
June 24 Jānis (John/Jack)
July 3 Bonita (Bonnie)
July 25 Jēkabs (Jimmie)
July 26 Anna, Annija (Anne)
July 27 Marta (Martha)
Sept. 20 Lisa
Sept. 21 Debra
Oct. 17 Karīna (Karen)
Oct. 17 Karola (Carolyn)
Nov. 19 Elizabete (Elizabeth)
Nov. 25 Katrīna (Cathy, Kathleen)
Dec. 3 Barbara
Dec. 15 Jānet
Dec. 30 Davids, Davis (David)

Those without a name day have several options for celebrating. The Latvian name-day calendar is updated at one or two-year intervals; anyone can suggest a name for the calendar, usually by sending an application to the State Language Center. The Center tries to spread new names out so that not more than 3 or 4 are celebrated on any particular day. Meanwhile, any name can be celebrated on May 25 or February 29. (So those are your options Cheri, Marcia, Mardelle, Øyvor, Sharon, Shelby, and Shirley!)


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