Today is St Barbara’s Day. My namesday, as we post-war Poles say, or nameday as it apparently should be said. I only found that out yesterday whilst out celebrating this chance occasion. In Poland the custom of celebrating your name on the day of the Saint in the catholic calendar is actually much more important than your birthday. In fact the custom used to be that you were named after the saint on whose day you were born – which was quite good for knowing the date, I suppose. i was going to say for dating purposes, but that has a slightly different meaning these days.
Anyway, not everybody wanted their child to be called Boniface, or Polycarp or whatever the saint might have been, so they would give the baby a name they liked and then they would celebrate on the first day that name came up on the calendar. So there are loads of days for Mary for example – but only one for Barbara.
I was born in England – on St Nicholas of Tolentino’s day, as it happens. So I celebrate my birthday, and being of Polish parents, I celebrate my Saints Day too. So does most of my family. We are apparently quite unusual in this but we like it. Twice the attention, twice the presents. We also celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Most people seem to just do the one. What a shame!
The only exception to celebrating namesdays was my mother. That was because her given name, Grażyna, was not a recognisably Christian name before the war. It was a Polish/Lithuanian name, but no canonised Saints had held it. So when she was christened she was given a second name, Maria, to make sure she was acceptable to the Church. This was a well known phenomenon for a lot of names which did not exist in the Catholic calendar. Since the war they have all been included in a namesday calendar which is published in various newspapers. So if my mother were alive today she would celebrate on April 1st. I’m not sure she would have been that thrilled, but there we are.
But back to St Barbara.
This delightful little snippet is taken from a fascinating book called A Calendar of Saints by James Bentley. He is English and so has a slightly different take on these things.
I was called Barbara, partly because in Poland she was the patron saint of miners, and they really needed her protection – it’s a great day still for celebrations in the mining districts of Poland, – but mainly because she was the patron saint of the artillery, and my father was in the Third Carpathian Rifle Division and she was very close to their hearts, especially at Monte Cassino.
It’s not a name I particularly like, especially when unabbreviated, but my parents always said they chose it because it was the same in Polish and English and that made for better integration. It also means that many women of my generation are called Barbara. Not all- but a lot.
So – Happy Namesday, all you Barbaras out there! Enjoy!
What do you celebrate?