Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Name Day

My informant was born in Boston, but his parents immigrated to the United States from Poland. He is an American citizen, but he has spent a few summers in Poland, and his parents keep many Polish traditions alive in his household. He told me about one Polish holiday that he and his family celebrated when he was younger. This is his account:

“In Poland, there’s a tradition called Imieniny, which means Name Day. Just like how we celebrate birthdays here, uh it’s like a special day for everyone—but primarily kids and young people—and it’s just like a day where you’ll get chocolates and small gifts. The gifts are really cheap stuff from your family. Because even though you celebrate birthdays too, they’re not like, quite as big of a hullabaloo as they are here. And it’s just like, a nice day that is about you. So every traditional Polish name—and they’re constantly adding new ones, once they become popular—they get added to the calendar, so if you buy a calendar in Poland, each day has names at the bottom of each day. You get candy and sweets, and maybe a small toy. The gifts aren’t as big or expensive as the ones you might get on your birthday. So one year, just like I usually would, I got nice boxes of chocolate, and my mom cooked my favorite traditional Polish dish: kashanka, which is basically sausage. As I got older, we kind of stopped celebrating Imieniny in my family.”

Analysis: My informant’s description of this particular holiday seemed to bring back fond memories for him. As he said, it was a special day during the year that was “about him.” He got to enjoy special attention and receive gifts from loved ones; in those ways, it is quite similar to a birthday. Yet, I think, this holiday was not only “about him,” but also about Polish pride on a larger scale. This holiday celebrates people with traditional Polish names, thereby commemorating their historic ties to Poland. People have to consult Polish calendars if they want to find their name day, and then they will only find their name if it is considered to be traditionally Polish. For an immigrant family in America, Imieniny might have induced a sense of nostalgia; they were able to spend a day commemorating not only one member of their household, but also the culture that they came from. I would imagine that this kind of celebration would be comforting to immigrants who may feel homesick from time to time, and who value the ties they have to the country they were born in—and where most of their family still resides (as is the case for my informant’s family).

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