Because it's my Name Day!
I love the month of May for so many reasons not the least of which is that it brings my name day, the Feast of St. Sofia (Św. Zofia, in Polish), on May 15.
When I woke up on that day my mother would sing out to me " Bo to dzisiaj imieniny!" ( "It's your name day!") In Poland, the most important day of the year for an individual was not their birth day but their name day, their imieniny, the feast day of the saint whose name one received in baptism. I was baptized Zofia. When I started first grade in America, the nuns, perhaps to ease me into peer group acceptance, Anglicized my name and called me Sophie. Sophie it stayed. To my mother and father I was always Zosia, Zosiu or Zośka, the diminutive, affectionate forms of Zofia.
Chances are you may never have heard much of St. Sofia, a martyr of Rome, whose daughters were Faith, Hope and Charity. It's a hugely popular name in Poland but not so much here in the United States. The only Zosia I knew when I was growing up were middle-aged and grandmother types, Polish women who had immigrated to America or were daughters of the earlier wave of Polish immigrants. I didn't know a single Sophie who was roughly my age. I felt a bit of an oddball but what can you do.
In Poland it was, and still is, customary to offer the celebrant on their name day a bouquet of flowers, or a bottle of wine or a food gift but I didn't get any presents. My mother sang me the little ditty, and quoted me a Polish proverb: "Św. Zofia, kłosy rozwija." ("On St. Sophie, the ears of grain open.") At this time of year in Poland, the fields of wheat or oats or rye were unfurling, ripening.
And then she'd announce it was safe to plant the vegetable garden. Year after year, this was her rule. She would wait until after my name day to begin burying the cucumber and beet seeds in the newly tilled ground. How did she know this? Because she was still planting on the old Polish beliefs associated with another proverb: "Pankracy, Serwacy, Bonifacy to grożni na ogrody chłopacy." ("Pancras, Servatius and Boniface, are dangerous for the peasant's garden.") The saints that are celebrated just before mine were Pancras(May 12), Servatius(May 13) and Boniface(May 14). They were known as the winter saints or ice saints who could still send a blast of cold wintery air at a time when everything was blossoming and was still tender growth.
I think of this because today is my name day but also because on the way home from church yesterday, what had started as a cool but sunny morning turned for the worse and with torrential rain and chunks of hail. I guess Bonifacy had to have his say.
Looking back, I realize I did receive gifts from my mother on my Name Day. (1) I hear her voice still, singing to me each name day (2) I have my very own proverb and (3) I'm in possession of a great gardening tip, a yardstick I use to measure when it's time to plant my own garden.
5/15/2017 09:33:44 am
I was unbelievably excited to see your post on the Polish Culture website! All my grandparents immigrated to Buffalo at the turn of the last century. But I had liittle knowledge of my origins. I found your books and they helped me find out so much of what it meant to be Polish. They also inspired me so much that not only have I written an historical fiction novel (set in 1456) but one of the key characters is named for you. Baba Zosia is the wise woman in the village, a healer, and the Godmother of the hidden granddaughter of Queen Jadwiga. She is a fount of wisdom, modeled on my mother and named for you! Happy Saint's Day. Joanne
5/15/2017 10:09:22 am
Zosia, I am giving you virtual flowers and chocolates today in honor of your Feast Day. My father always celebrated his.feast day with chocolates and flowers brought to him by friends. I was thrilled that I knew the feasts of Sts. Pancras, Servatius, and Boniface - I read off the names each day from my Polish calendar sent to me each year by cousins in Poland. Whether religious calendars from churches, or those with secular drawings, the days always include the saints' names. I love our Polish traditions!
8/10/2019 07:14:30 pm
That’s different the most important day of the year in your life was not your birth day but your name day, imieniny, the feast day of the saint whose name one received in baptism. We don’t give much attention to our name but we carefully chose it for our child. What we celebrate every year is our birthday. I also named may eldest daughter Sophia but with a different spelling. In Hebrew it means “wisdom”, broad and full of intelligence. And I think it suits her well because she grew up smart and kind.
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One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.