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Polish Name Days (Imieniny)

In Poland, name days (imieniny) are widely celebrated and have traditionally been given a greater importance than birthday celebrations, particularly as one gets on in years. Printed in every local calendar, these name days represent the feast days of Catholic saints. Every day of the year is assigned two saints – one male, one female – and chances are if you share a name with a saint (as almost all Poles do), you too have a name day. Some names are even repeated more than once in a calendar year, in which case you celebrate the first of your name days to fall after your birthday.

Name Day celebrations in Poland are social events, traditionally involving the gathering of friends and family at the celebrant’s home or in the bar of their choice. Differing slightly from western birthday celebrations in which the celebrant is often seen as a ‘guest of honour’ and might expect to be bought drinks all night, in name day gatherings the celebrant traditionally plays the role of host, buying drinks for friends and ensuring that guests are taken care of. In return, guests should bring small gifts (typically chocolate, flowers or vodka) as you would on someone’s birthday. The Polish birthday song ‘Sto Lat’ (A Hundred Years) is sung, and its mindless simplicity might be tempting for foreigners to criticise until they reflect on just how dreadful the English happy birthday song actually is. Name Days are so important to Polish culture that in Kraków, they are prominently displayed in all of the city’s trams, thereby ensuring that you know who you should be buying flowers for that day; information that you’ll often find less readily available on these same trams is the name of the line or the destination of its next stop.

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