Catholic Activity: Namedays
The celebration of birthdays is not the original practice in Catholic homes. It only spread within the past few centuries, replacing the earlier Christian custom of observing the feast day of the saint whose name was acquired in Baptism.
The celebration of saints' feasts is a part of the liturgical life of the Church. Thus any person observing the feast of "his" saint immediately enters into the warm sphere of liturgical radiation and spiritual enrichment. Compared to this, the celebration of the birthday is more worldly, merely natural, and almost accidental in its lack of significance.
It is not necessary that we do away with our customary birthday celebrations. But we should certainly try to restore the meaningful Catholic tradition of celebrating the feast of the saint whose name was given in Baptism and who is our personal patron, loving and helping us whether we observe or neglect his veneration. Children will surely not object to the keeping of the nameday, for to them it will mean, besides all its other significance, another personal feast day every year.
If a child has been taught to pray to his patron saint every night, he will greet the feast of this saint with a thrill of joy and spiritual elevation. It is his "own" feast, and the whole family should make him happily aware of it. After all, birth is a common event shared with the same significance by all members of the family. The patron saint, however, is not usually shared with brothers or sisters, thus making his feast so unique and exclusive at least in its psychological aspect.
According to ancient traditions the nameday is festively held in Christian homes. I remember how from early childhood I went to church with my father every year on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, attending the holy Sacrifice, and later receiving Communion, too. Returning home I found the table cheerfully decorated with flowers and little presents. Mother, father, brothers and sisters offered their congratulations. Then we sat down to a joyful breakfast, my proud little self sitting in the place of honor. And all this because centuries ago a wonderful young man in Spain had loved God so much that he became a saint. I cannot express the powerful conviction that filled me every year on this occasion, how great and important it is to become holy. This was one of the eloquent lessons which our religious customs taught me without words but with an effect greater than many words could achieve. Judging from this aspect we may truly say that such Catholic customs in the home educate the children more efficiently than the best Catholic teachers could ever do in school.
Activity Source: Year of the Lord in the Christian Home, The (reprinted as Religious Customs in the Family) by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., The Liturgical Press; reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, 1964