There are many traditions that can seem strange to foreigners and Russian name days are one of them. Although they are not widely celebrated any more, you may just come across a name day celebration during your time in Russia. At the very least, once you have learnt about name days you may be able to surprise a Russian friend with a card or gift on their name day!
The actual tradition of name days is not uniquely Russian, as it also features in other nations with strong orthodox or Catholic traditions. In these other countries and in Russia, the most common names are shared with saints. The day these saints were born (for Catholics) and the day they died (for Orthodox) is the name day for the name of that particular saint. For example, the Russian name day for the name Natalia (and we probably all know at least one!) is September 8th.
Traditionally, name days were a very religious affair and also prompted a celebration as big as a birthday, if not bigger. If you have read your traditional Russian literature carefully, you will also have noted references to name days in popular works by Pushkin, Chekhov and Tolstoy. The celebration of name days suffered after the revolution, due to the repression of Orthodox religion in the USSR. Now that religion is back in a big way here in Russia, name days are making a slight come back, but are still not widely celebrated. You could definitely find young Russians who have absolutely no idea what their name day is.
These days, throwing a lavish party for person name day is not expected and would not be the done thing. Most people who still recognise the Russian name day tradition just give a card or a small gift. To discover the dates of various name days, there is a very useful online tool called Name Day Calculator.
Now that you understand the tradition of Russian name days, you can impress your Russian friends and further immerse yourself in Russian culture! If there are any other interesting Russian tradition that you think we should cover here on the blog, let us know in the comment section below.