Along with Sweden, Finland is one of those European countries that has a strong name day tradition. This tradition is based on the calendar of saints of the Catholic Church, which over the centuries turned into the national name day calendar.
The saints had an important position in medieval Catholic culture, and their commemorative days were celebrated with great devotion. At the time, the saints themselves were commemorated, not the people named after them. A more secular name day tradition originated when celebrations were held in the 16th century in honour of significant men of German cities, held on the commemorative days of their patron saints. The name day tradition expanded from Germany to Denmark during the Protestant Reformation. Celebrating name days became standard in Sweden in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Finnish name day tradition arrived from Sweden in the 18th century. Name days were first celebrated amongst the upper class and in the rural areas of southwest Finland, and then the custom gradually expanded to elsewhere in the country. Celebrating name days was supported by the Finnish name day calendar; the names in this calendar began to correspond to true name giving. The name day tradition in Finland was at its strongest in the early 20th century.
Name Day Customs Yesterday and Today
The 19th and early 20th century Finns had many name day traditions that later on went out of practice. It was customary to wake up the honouree in the morning with song, throwing him or her up in the air with a big “hurrah!” Life-sized name day dolls of straw and old clothes could be made as “spouses” for unmarried men and women, and they were snuck in to the honouree’s bed while he or she was sleeping.
Ordinarily, name day parties were arranged at the honouree’s home serving beer or coffee and cake. If the honouree refused to have a party, the punishment could be to throw him or her into the pigsty. Youngsters played circle dancing games and had other dances.
There was often a decorated tree for the name day honouree or a pole on which gifts were hung. Gifts could also have been put under the small tree on the name day party table. The honouree was given name day cards or pictures embroidered with name day poems. Typical gifts also included jewellery, scarves, pens and pencils or other small items.Sending out name day cards became commonplace in the early 20th century.
Nowadays, Finns celebrate name days with small gifts and coffee gatherings. You can regularly find out whose name day it is in calendars, on the radio, in the newspapers and on the Internet. Name day honourees are also commemorated at day care, school and the workplace. Although some still send out greeting cards, people most often wish others a happy name day with a phone call, text message, e-mail or on Facebook.
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