All Greeks celebrate name days. This is the Saint’s Day of the saint of the Orthodox Church whose name they hold. Some Saints have easy names and days to remember, while others are more obscure and as a final resort there is an All Saints Day to cover those names not having a specific Saint.
It’s easy when you are born Basil and St Basil’s day falls on the first of January. We all used to gather at my grandmother’s house in Old Alberton and celebrate the change of year with a dinner and gunshots at midnight. After dinner and into the early hours of the New Year we would play cards. Tradition has it that your success in cards portends your success in general in the year to come. The dining room table seated the old man who played Poker. The pool in the middle grew after some rounds, but was never an obscenely large amount. Those were the days of brown R1 notes. To see a R5 or R10 on the table meant serious amounts were accumulating. Every time someone one a round they would call me to their side after they had raked in their winnings and give me a small dividend. These would increase after midnight, as it was officially St Basil’s Day. Once, at midnight with the popping of Champagne corks after listening to the count down on the English radios, one of the men pulled out a revolver and shot into the sky. He forgot he was under the veranda and the bullet whizzed through the corrugated iron roof, reverberating off the nearby koppies and causing temporary deafness in all. This helped when he was chastised by his wife and my grandmother.
St John’s day is on the 6th of January. St Arthur’s falls on the 12th of the same month. St Xara for my big boy cat falls on the 10th of February. I’m not sure if animals are allowed to celebrate name days, but I celebrate Xara’s. He is such a hedonist. He gets to sleep in a bit longer than normal on that day. St George’s day is fascinating. It falls on the 23rd of April, but if it is before Easter, then the day moves to be celebrated on Easter Sunday.
St Peter’s is celebrated on The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, on the 15th of August. All the Mary’s and Maria’s, including my late grandmother, Marigo, celebrate their name day this day. Some Saints have combined days, like St Constantine and Helene, who share the 21st of May. St Michael and Gabriel share the 8th of November. St Olga’s is on the 1th of July.
St Fanourios deserves a special mention on the 27th of August. He is the patron Saint of lost things. I do not know anyone called Fanourios, but the Saint helps find lost items including health and the future husbands of unmarried woman. Prayer and a special walnut and raisin cake help appease his hunger pangs so he can spend some time guiding one to the lost item. Don’t laugh, it works.
My father treasured Saint’s Days. They were more important than birthdays. Houses were opened by the celebrant and visitors welcome for a drink, a coffee or even a meal.
Sometimes they would just dance!